Preserving the Galápagos Islands – how to visit without affecting the wildlife

Tortoise on the Galapagos Islands. Photo: Shutterstock
Tortoise on the Galapagos Islands. Photo: Shutterstock

Tourism is a mixed blessing for the Galápagos Islands and today, the hundreds of thousands of visitors who follow in Darwin's footsteps must follow strict rules if the unique wildlife of the archipelago is to survive. Follow these guidelines to ensure that the islands will be left unaltered by your visit.

Arriving on the islands

No natural object – plant, animal, shell, bone, stone, or scrap of wood – should be removed or disturbed. It is illegal and alters the islands’ ecological conditions. Be careful not to transport any live material to the islands, or from island to island. Before leaving the boat, check your shoe soles for dried mud, as it may contain plant seeds and animal spores. Inadvertent transport of these materials represents a special danger to the Galápagos: each island has its own unique fauna and flora, and introduced plants and animals can quickly destroy them.

Obviously no other animals or plants should be brought to the islands. For the same reason, do not take any food to the uninhabited islands. Along with the food may come insects or other organisms that might threaten the fragile island ecosystems. Fresh fruits and vegetables are especially dangerous: a dropped orange pip, for example, may become a tree.


Respecting the Galápagos wildlife

Galápagos animals may not be touched or handled. Young animals that have been handled may be rejected by their mothers because of their smell. They soon die as a result. Animals may not be fed. Not only can it be dangerous but in the long run it can destroy the animals’ social structure and affect their reproduction. Do not startle or chase any animal from its resting or nesting spot. Exercise extreme caution among the breeding colonies of seabirds. These birds will fly from their nests if they are startled, often knocking the egg or chick to the ground or leaving it exposed to the sun. (A recently hatched booby chick will die in 20 to 30 minutes if it is exposed to the sun; frigate birds will also eat any unguarded chick.)


How to visit the Galápagos National Park

All groups visiting the national park must be accompanied by an approved, qualified guide. The visitor must follow the guide’s instructions, while the guide must ensure compliance with the national park regulations. Notify the national park service if you see any serious damage being done. You may be a decisive factor in the preservation of the islands. The head office is a 10-minute walk east of the main town of Puerto Ayora (tel: 05-252 6189), but there are also offices on San Cristobal (Puerto Baquerizo Moreno; tel: 05-252 0497), Floreana (Puerto Velasco Ibarra; tel: 05-252 4869), and Isabela (Puerto Villamil; tel: 05-252 9178). Also use the very good Galápagos national park website for planning an environmentally-conscious trip (


Exploring the islands

Do not leave the designated visiting sites. Where trails to points of interest are marked with wooden stakes, you should remain within the stakes.

Litter of all types must be kept off the islands. Disposal at sea must be limited to certain types of garbage which can be thrown overboard in selected areas. Keep all rubbish in a bag or pocket, to be disposed of on your boat. The crew of your vessel is responsible to the national park for proper trash disposal. Never throw anything overboard.

Do not buy souvenirs or objects made from plants or animals. Black coral is now endangered by islanders’ carvings. If anyone offers you any of these souvenirs, please advise the national park.

Camping anywhere within the Galápagos without a permit is against the law. Contact any of the national park offices to get a permit for one of the designated sites.


This month we're posting a Panama-hat-ful of fascinating articles about Ecuador, including a guide to the best islands to see in the Galápagos, Ecuador's vanishing rainforest, and the country's impressive volcanoes.