Visit the Galapagos before it is too late

Having completed our trip aboard Queen of Galapagos, there is little doubt in our minds as to the magnificence of the destination because it is truly spectacular. The question is, for how long can these amazing little islands stand the onslaught of the tourist or indeed the islanders themselves?

500 Guides each can lead 16 tourists around these marvels of nature where animals allow themselves to be seen at very close quarters. Add to that the independent yachtsmen and those permitted to gain the islands inside the park without a guide and the number of visitors could reach 8,000+ a day or nearly 3 million a year.

Commercialism is creeping in quickly; attractions such as the habitat of the Giant Tortoise have entrance fees and the ever-present gift shop and café.

In town, bars and restaurants jostle for business each offering bargain prices and happy hours that seem to last an afternoon and it can surely only be a matter of time before the Golden Arches of the giant fat food joint are seen downtown.

Even the iconic Charles Darwin Research Station and National Park attractions come complete with gift shops and snack bars and while it is possible to see some of the achievements these organisations have made over years most of what they do is hidden from the visitor.

Plastic bottles float where sea lions play, island homes have no mains sewerage and yacht operators pump their chemically treated effluent into the sea. Townships are sprawling, teenage pregnancy is apparently rampant and the local population is expanding at an alarming rate but there are few good schools or places of higher education. Compared to mainland Ecuador though the standard of living is high making it the islands a desirable place to live.

Yet the destination is one of the modern wonders of the world and undoubtedly the way to see it is from the deck of a yacht with your own guide as we did. Trying to do it on down market tourist boats is like joining the lines in Disneyland. Endeavouring to visit islands by small local boats using land-based hostels is a pastime only for the young who are prepared to carry the world inside a rucksack.

Visit the Galapagos as soon as you can, as despite the best efforts of the authorities, we fear it may not remain a wonderful, unique, pristine, environment. Go now before it is too late.

Queen of Galapagos is available for charter through Robert Shepherd at Edmiston