Have you or are you considering doing a tour or cruise to the Galapagos Islands? Have you already started looking at all of the options? There's a lot of them, aren't there? I just looked at the number of companies that exhibit at the South American trade show that I attend every year and I counted 28 that offer options to the Galapagos Islands. And that is just the number of companies who are willing to pay to meet with travel agents from all over the world! There are many other small companies that offer tours and cruises that other companies operate or they just have 1 small boat or hotel, so it is not worth it for them to pay to try to appeal to a worldwide audience.
In a recent Portrait of American Travelers study, it was noted that 67% of American travelers now express an interest in experiencing foreign foods. That is up from 51% just 2 years ago. Millenials showed the most interest while mature travelers showed the least interest. I wonder if that is partially due to tv celebrities like Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain who travel around the world eating local food? At any rate, it seems that will eventually hurt the malls I've seen in foreign countries that have nothing but American fast food restaurants in them.
South America is definitely an area where local chefs are developing cuisines that are evolving and enticing travelers.
I've written before about the delights of staying in one or more of the many haciendas that are available in Ecuador. Because they are owner-operated, historical and are often interwoven with the local community, they give you a richer experience than you would get if you just stay in a regular hotel. Of course if you are on a hostel budget, they would not be suitable for you, but some are reasonably affordable. As an example of what I am talking about, here is a very informative video presentation about one of my favorite haciendas:
One of our operators in Ecuador has just opened up a new facility called Magic Galapagos. Located in the quiet and cool highlands of Santa Cruz Island, this very special safari-style camp is available exclusively to their clients. With just six raised, walk-in, en-suite safari tents and four tree houses, guests feel that they have their own private hideaway. The only crowds they will see are the millions of stars in the night sky, the only noises they hear will be the gentle breezes and the measured passage of giant tortoises.
Have you been trying to decide whether you should visit an amazon rain forest lodge or a cloud forest lodge or both? My friend Richard Parsons came up with these ideas. In this case he is referring to Ecuador, but it would be the same in Peru or Colombia.
As people and businesses have encroached into what was once virgin wilderness, wildlife and local people have suffered. So several amazon conservation initiatives have been developed to try to slow down the loss of wildlife and the suffering of the indigenous population.
In Ecuador, my friend Raul Garcia has been working to help. He has started projects to help the local communities and to get them involved in helping the wildlife, as you can learn in this video.
Due to the increasing volcanic activity that the Cotopaxi Volcano had in August 2015, the Cotopaxi National Park was closed to any touristic activity. But, on August 5th 2016, the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Tourism announced the reopening of the National Park. They also informed that the accessing routes and touristic attractions in the park are safe for the incoming tourists. 90% of the areas that had been restricted to the public are now open, along with improved monitoring and safety measures that have been implemented.
What is the best Galapagos cruise or tour? Well that's a very subjective topic. For instance if you look at hotel ratings on Tripadvisor, sometimes 3* hotels are rated higher than 5* hotels. But people who normally stay in 3* hotels because of price couldn't compare it to a 5* hotel. So maybe the 3* they stayed in was excellent, compared to other 3* hotels they've stayed in, but if someone who normally stays in 5* hotels went there, they might not rate it as high. I would think that the same would apply to the 69 boats that are authorized to operate there.
But there are other things to consider besides looks.....
When I discuss everything that Ecuador has to offer with the different tour operators, I inevitably ask the question "why aren't more people coming to mainland Ecuador"? Sure, a lot of people go to the Galapagos, but many of them spend the least amount of time possible on the mainland. Why?
I would guess that when most people are shopping for an Amazon cruise, they first think of Brazil or Peru. Sure, you can find a good cruise in either of those countries - especially in Peru, where you can find a lot to choose from. If you are only going to Brazil or only to Peru, then it makes sense to look for a cruise in that country.
Jim has been an agent for over 20 years and has specialized in South America for much of that time