The Galapagos National Park (also called the Parque Nacional Galapagos) was established in 1959 and kicked off operations in 1968. It is Ecuador’s first national park and a UNESCO world heritage site.
This Galapagos islands are very beautiful and popular for its unique landscapes and wildlife. These islands are also popular for being an inspiration for Charles Darwin’s groundbreaking work on natural selection and evolution.
The Galapagos is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. As at 2016, more than 220,000 tourists visited the Galapagos.
An increase in popularity also meant an increase in visitors. If left unchecked, this would pose a threat to the ecosystem of the Galapagos islands.
The Galapagos National Park is responsible for protecting more than 3,000 square miles of land, which encompasses the 127 islands and islets in the Galapagos Archipelago.
The Galapagos Marine Reserve is responsible for protecting about 53,000 square miles of ocean around the islands.
About 350 park rangers work at the Galapagos National Park. The island guides are certified and well trained in tourist guidance techniques, biology, evolution, genetics and environmental interpretation.
About 97% of the islands are uninhabited, it is one of the most pristine areas in the world. In a bid to conserve its unique and fragile ecosystem, the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD) established a set of rules which all tourists must follow.
So what are these rules? Let’s go through them one by one.
Galapagos National Park Rules
1 . Only visit protected areas within the Galapagos National Park accompanied by a GNPD authorized naturalist guide.
The naturalist guide has the responsibility of enforcing all Galapagos National Park rules. These rules keep the guests safe and ensures the protection and conservation of the endemic wildlife on the islands.
Keeping the Galapagos flora and fauna as pristine as possible is a priority and the naturalist guides are there to make sure each visitor abides by the rules. They also share their knowledge of the islands with the guests and this makes their visit more entertaining.
2 . You must stay on the trails.
The trails at all the visitor sites are clearly marked and your guide will ensure you abide by this rule. This rule helps in the preservation of the natural habitats, it also keeps both you and the wildlife safe.
The trails were designed to provide the tourists with an excellent view of the plants and wildlife on the islands. They also limit the effect of human presence on animal colonies.
Pay attention to any seasonal adjustments or temporary changes on trails. Your naturalist guide will be there to make sure you maintain the trails.
3 . You must maintain at least 6 feet distance away from the animals ( even if they approach you)
The Galapagos islands attract so many visitors and over the years, the animals have become used to seeing humans. Move away if they come close to you, but remain on the trail while doing so.
You should be aware that the behavior of wildlife can sometimes be unpredictable, the distance between yourself and the wildlife will help keep you and the animals safe.
This is clearly the best way to avoid bothering them.
4 . Do not give food to the animals
There is a delicate balance within the circle of life in the Galapagos islands. You are not to interfere with this balance. Giving food to the wildlife could also cause them health problems.
Human food isn’t meant for animals to consume, it could get them sick and may kill them if the situation isn’t handled quickly. Preserving wildlife on the islands is a top priority and feeding the animals would be hazardous.
Feeding the animals would also encourage them to approach humans, and for your safety, you must resist doing so.
5 . Do not bring new food, animals or plants to the Galapagos islands.
Over the years, The Archipelago has been able to win the battle against invasive species and they’d like to keep it that way.
On arrival at the Galapagos islands, your bags may be inspected by quarantine officials. You must cooperate with the inspections. These inspections ensure that no plants, animals, eggs or plant seeds are intentionally brought to the islands.
Something as little as a caterpillar egg or plant seed brought to the islands could result in the introduction of an invasive species. This would be catastrophic to the already existing plants and animals on the islands.
New food, plants, plant seeds, eggs and animals are forbidden!
6 . Do not use a flash when taking pictures of the wildlife.
The bright and sunny skies should provide adequate lighting for you pictures. Besides, the flash could upset the animals and lead them to react unpredictably.
If you plan to do any professional photoshoot or video coverage on the islands, the GNPD has to first approve before hand.
Also, your cellphone must be in airplane mode while you are in the park. You can only activate your cellular service when on board your vessel or in the town’s.
7 . Do not take anything from the natural environment or habitats in the Galapagos.
You can buy souvenirs from stores in Puerto Villamil, Puerto Ayora, or Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. You can also buy from the airports or local vendors if you wish.
Do not ever take anything made from black coral, native wood or vegetation, lava rock, shells or animal parts as they are banned substances.
It is illegal to buy or sell items made from banned materials from the islands. Such activities are harmful to its ecosystem and you should report such activities to the park authorities if you come across it.
8 . Leave no trace.
This is a very important rule on the Galapagos islands. This means when you leave a site, it should look exactly the same as when you arrived.
Your footprints should be the only thing you leave behind. Do not drop anything on the ground, not even a biscuit crumb! Also, do not pick the leaves or flowers as it damages their natural beauty.
Maintaining this rule will ensure that the tourists who come after you would enjoy the same beauty and view you enjoyed.
9 . You must properly dispose of your trash or recycle them as indicated by the hotel or boat where you are staying.
If you come across any trash on the ground, pick it up and place it in a proper receptacle. If there is none immediately available, hold it in your hand until you can properly dispose of it.
Littering is forbidden.
10 . Do not smoke or make camp fires.
This rule is in place to make sure there are no risks of a fire outbreak. Also, the smoke pollutes the very fresh air, and this is harmful to plants and animals that call the islands their home.
Smoking cigarettes also contribute to the build up of waste, as smokers may drop cigarette butts and ash on the floor. For this reason, cigars, cigarettes and pipes are totally forbidden.
11 . You can only fish from GNPD authorized recreational tour boats.
These boats must meet all GNDP regulations, which include being not more than 30ft long.
Poachers are also a huge threat to marine life, since they partake in the illegal act of overfishing (that is catching more than what the authority allows). Marine life is very well preserved around the Galapagos waters and fishing from only GNPD authorized boats reduces the occurrence of poachers and overfishing.
12 . You are not allowed to do any motorized aquatic sports or aerial tourism in the marine reserve or national park.
Water sports are noisy and they can pollute the marine environment. Also, there can be accidents during the watersport activities and residues of these accidents (such as human blood or fragments from a crash) also pollute the waters.
13 . Camping is limited to just a few authorized areas.
You cannot camp in any of the uninhabited islands on the Galapagos. Permits may be denied of ocean or weather conditions are not optimum.
Campfires are not allowed under any circumstances!
Here are the designated camping sites on the Galapagos-
· The Garrapatero on Santa Cruz island
· Puerto Chino, Manglesito, and Puerto Grande in San Cristobal island
· Volcano Chico-sector El Curator and the Sulphur mines on Isabella islands
Visitors must request authorization to camp at least two 2 days before time and your request must be approved by the GNPD.
14 . Travel only with tour operators and/or boats authorized to work in the protected areas of Galapagos.
The Galapagos islands have strict rules that guide traffic along their waterways. If you’re travelling with a private yacht, it is compulsory to arrange your visit to the Galapagos with a local shipping agent.
The quarantine procedures are very strict. You will also need to fill out some paperwork from the Ecuadorian Navy and the Galapagos National Park before you arrive.
All the ocean within 40 miles of the coastline boundary is a world heritage site marine reserve. Your itinerary must be approved by the GNDP and all yacht arrivals are subject to environmental risk assessment.
Why You Must Respect The Rules Of The Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD)
As a tourist, whenever you visit any national park anywhere in the world, bear in mind that it is your responsibility to leave the sites in exactly the same conditions they were before you came. You must be responsible enough to respect and adhere to the rules of the park. Knowing this is very important as you visit the Galapagos.
Being a tourist, you are only a temporary part of the Galapagos ecosystem, which is why you must play your part in conserving the islands when you are there.
The rules that have been set in place by the national park have been carefully designed to balance travelers access to Galapagos species and marine wildlife in its most natural forms, and the protection of these fragile marine environments.
The Galapagos boasts of endemic and native species of wildlife that no other place on Earth has. Contributing to their protection is your responsibility when you visit. You can only do this by abiding to the 14 RULES set out by the GNPD.