Galapagos Islands Ecotourism: Tips for Sustainable Tourism in the Galapagos

Learn how to enjoy the wonders of the Galapagos Islands while traveling in a responsible, sustainable way.

sustainable tourism galapagos

The Galapagos Islands are known to be one of the world’s most ecologically important destinations thanks to the vast array of unique flora and wildlife that call them home. Because of this, it's incredibly important both for travelers and travel suppliers to balance the enjoyment of a luxury vacation here with taking a sustainable approach to travel and respecting the conservation efforts in place.

The Galapagos itself is a national park, meaning that upon arrival, you are charged a symbolic fee yhat goes towards the maintenance and protection of the park, including species conservation, guarding marine life, and even keeping pirates away! There are also several projects and initiatives, all with the aim of protecting the Galapagos Island’s conservation efforts.

Some of the regulations and initiatives in place include:

  • The Galapagos National Park Directorate rules are a set of rules and regulations all visitors must follow when visiting the islands.
  • Flights in and out of the Galapagos are controlled, with only two flights a day arriving from Ecuador, allowing for a greater level of control over the number of tourists entering the islands.
  • Cruise ships are controlled to an extent, with the Ecuadorian government and the national park restricting the size of the boats allowed to cruise the islands to 100 passengers maximum. Some of the islands are limited to boats with no more than 40 passengers.
  • When traveling in the national park, you must be accompanied by an experienced local guide. It’s the law to have one, with the guidelines stating that these guides must be fully trained and local.

There are many benefits of ecotourism and responsible travel in the Galapagos, the chief one being the protection of this wonderfully unique natural environment and its resident wildlife.

The World Tourism Organization defines sustainable tourism as “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities". Both the locals and the government are passionate about maintaining the sanctity of the environment, but by understanding responsible tourism and the kinds of things you can do to help, these efforts are maximized.

Scott Dunn’s Latin America Destination Expert Marianne Baring explains why it’s so important to travel responsibly in the Galapagos:

“The Galapagos is such an incredible, beautiful place but with a fragile ecozystem which we all need to be aware of and protect. For example, please do not use a selfie stick so that you can get nearer to the wildlife - it would not be safe and tourists must avoid encroaching in the animals’ space.”


Visitors look out at the surrounding ocean from a viewpoint

Tips for Sustainable Tourism in the Galapagos Islands

If you’re looking to travel to the islands but want to understand more about sustainable tourism in the Galapagos and how you can do your bit, read our top tips below. 

Aim for Responsible Travel

First things first, it's a good idea to travel on cruises and boat trips run by regulated companies featuring the Smart Voyager certification. The Smart Voyager program was initiated by the Ecuadorian citizen’s group, the Conservación y Desarrollo, in collaboration with their partner, Rainforest Alliance, to credit operations that meet a set of strict conservation standards, mainly hotels and cruise ships. The certification takes into account factors like waste management, safety standards, and developing and protecting the local community. As a traveler, by using a provider with the Smart Voyager seal, you’re ensuring that your money will benefit both the local people and local ecozystems of the Galapagos. After all, when you travel somewhere, the aim should always be to leave it as you found it. 

Little things like this go a long way in supporting sustainable tourism in the Galapagos Islands. 

Choose Sustainable Accommodation   

Looking for sustainable accommodation and lodging is another great way to ensure your luxury vacation to Ecuador and the Galapagos supports the ecozystem and conservation of the destination. 

When it comes to booking an ecotourism vacation in the Galapagos Islands, look out for accommodation that has a considered approach to waste management, the use of plastics and materials, recycling schemes, and the development and enrichment of the local community.

People on a Galapagos cruise receiving a lecture on sustainability

Follow the Rules of Conservation Sites and Parks 

It’s vital to follow the rules of conservation sites and parks during your vacation to the Galapagos, being mindful of any guidance given. This could mean, for example, using an experienced local tour guide and sticking to the marked paths of a trail. 

Other things you should do include: 

  • Avoid the use of single-use plastics - take a reusable bottle or coffee cup with you
  • Ensure proper waste disposal and try to recycle where possible
  • Do not touch or feed animals and keep a safe distance away from them when you see them in the wild - at least three meters or so
  • Refrain from using flash photography when photographing wild animals
  • Try to use eco-friendly products such as reef-safe sunscreen
  • Avoid smoking or lighting campfires in the national park
  • Don’t pick up shells, rocks, animal bones, or any plants or flowers - leave the land as it was when you arrived 

Doing these things all helps towards the efforts of the Galapagos Islands’ conservation. 

Make Donations to Conservation Efforts 

You might also want to consider donating some of the Galapagos Islands' conservation projects and local initiatives. The easiest way to do this is by paying the mandatory national park entry fee. You can also support the Galapagos Conservation Trust by making a donation to one of their many projects, joining as a member, or adopting a Galapagos animal. The Galapagos Conservancy also provides information on ways to donate, including donating an old car, RV or boat to support conservation and sustainability efforts.

The Galapagos Conservation Trust official logo

Credit: The Galapagos Conservation Trust


Support Local Businesses   

Perhaps the most important way to help protect the islands is by supporting local businesses and tour guides. As mentioned previously, when exploring the national parks, it is the law to have a local tour guide take you around, so don’t be tempted to wander off on your own.  

When thinking about your itinerary and planning what you want to do, consider booking ecotourism activities in the Galapagos which you know are set up to facilitate and support the conservation and protection of the islands. Try and shop at local stores and purchase any food, drink and gifts at locally-run establishments. At Scott Dunn, our seasoned travel experts will be more than happy to make some suggestions for you. 

You should also stay in sustainable and eco-friendly accommodation and eat at local, sustainably-minded restaurants. When booking a hotel, lodge, cruise or restaurant, the best way to find out how eco-conscious they are is to check their website or give them a call and ask about their sustainability initiatives. Doing research into these things ahead of time will go a long way in helping you to act consciously during your vacation, enjoying the Galapagos and all it has to offer, while respecting the land and its people. 

Purchase Only Smart Souvenirs 

Our final piece of advice is to think sensibly about the souvenirs you take home with you. Never pocket natural coral, shells, rocks or plants you find, and don’t buy them from shops if you see them either, as they’re unregulated and illegal. Instead, buy any souvenirs or gifts from proper gift shops and try to buy responsibly. An adoption pack for a local, endangered species would make a great gift for a family member, for example, and could really make a difference to the local community, as opposed to a keyring or stuffed toy. 

What Are We Doing to Support Sustainable Tourism in the Galapagos Islands? 

At Scott Dunn, we only work with local suppliers who know and understand the importance and fragility of the unique environment of the Galapagos Islands and hence are very aware of the requirements to protect and preserve these wonderfully diverse islands. It's therefore not just about catering to our guests’ wishes, but about the necessity of maintaining and protecting this very delicate and unique environment for years to come. 

So, ready to book your perfect getaway to the Galapagos Islands or keen to find out more about what a luxury vacation to the Galapagos entails? Get in touch with one of our friendly travel experts today.

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