Snorkeling in the Galapagos

Snorkeling allows those of us who either can’t afford or are too scared to SCUBA dive to still experience the wonders of the ocean. That said, often the most awe-inspiring aquatic sites are hidden deep below the surface and hidden to those of us who don’t have an oxygen tank strapped to our backs. Thankfully, if you find yourself in the Galapagos Islands, the animals of the sea come looking for you. That makes it one of the most satisfying and rewarding places to snorkel.

I visited the islands a few months ago and strapped a ContourGPS HD video camera to my snorkel mask for a week of exploration. Every single time I entered the water, I swam with a creature that I’d only previously encountered at aquariums. Notice that I said “swam with.” It’s not an exaggeration to say that the sea lions frolicked with us, the penguins teased us and the sharks shared some close encounters with us. Unlike any other place that I have been, snorkeling in the Galapagos is very much an interactive wildlife experience and you don’t need to be a professional cameraperson to capture the action.

Of course, it’s not all fun and games with animals in the Galapagos. I learned a few things in the water. Did you know that penguins poop while swimming? It’s like a public pool over there!

New Galapagos travel rules help protect the islands for future visitors

New travel regulations in the Galapagos Islands will help protect the environment thereA month ago we told you about some significant changes to the rules of travel in the Galapagos Islands that will go in effect in 2012. In a nutshell, the new regulations say that a ship cannot visit the same island twice within a 14-day period, which will likely have an impact on the available itineraries that are currently being offered to visit the place. While the intent of that story was to inform travelers of these changes and how they could impact any future plans to visit the Galapagos, the article failed to mention exactly why these changes are being made.

As most travelers know, the Galapagos are a unique and very special place. Located approximately 525 miles west of Ecuador, they are home to a large number of plant and animal species, many of which aren’t found anywhere else on the planet. Those creatures include several types of sea turtles, the flightless cormorant, warm water penguins, and a marine iguana that actually dives under the ocean to capture its prey.

The Islands were famously visited by Charles Darwin, aboard the HMS Beagle, back in 1835, and his observations of the endemic plant and animal life there led to his groundbreaking work The Origin of Species. The Galapagos are like a fantastic, living laboratory, offering Darwin, and other researchers that followed, an opportunity to observe the way animals adapt to their environment in a natural setting that is unlike any other on the planet.Because of the diversity of plants and animals on the Islands, UNESCO designated the Galapagos as a World Heritage Site in 1978, and in recent years it has become a popular tourist destination. So popular in fact, that the number visitors has begun to threaten the fragile environments of the Islands, which were amongst the most pristine, well preserved wildernesses on Earth. In an effort to ensure that they stay that way, the Ecuadorian government has instituted the new travel rules to help prevent over crowding and to spread tourist traffic more evenly across the 19 islands that make up the chain.

It should be noted that while these new regulations will force tour operators to change their itineraries, and in some cases the way they do business, the announcement has been met with universal applause. By prohibiting vessels from visiting the same location twice in a two week period, they are also limiting the size of the crowds on an island on any given day. This makes the experience all that much better for the visitors, while keeping the impact on the environment to a minimum as well.

While doing some research on this topic, I corresponded with several tour operators, and it quickly became clear to me how much they loved the Galapagos. Each of them remarked about how happy they were to see these regulations put into place and how it would help preserve the Islands for future visitors to enjoy as well. This is an example of how sustainable tourism can allow us to continue to visit the spectacular places of our planet, while also protecting them from harm. As avid travelers, I’m sure that is something that we can all get behind.

New Galapagos Islands regulations will change 2012 tours

New regulations on travel for the Galapagos Islands go into effect in2012Over the past decade or so, the Galapagos Islands have become one of the more popular tourist attractions in the world. In fact, they’ve gotten so popular that the fragile ecosystem there has become threatened by the amount of tourist traffic that now visit the area each year. In 2012, a new set of regulations will go into effect that may help protect the Islands, and could have an effect on travelers as well.

Beginning February 1st of next year, no vessel will be permitted to visit the same site more than once in a given 14 day period. The hope is that this will keep the traffic dispersed throughout the islands, and prevent some of the more threatened areas from becoming too crowded. It should also help to make the overall Galapagos experience a better one too.

While these regulations sound like a great plan for protecting one of the planet’s best natural wonders, they will have a direct impact on travelers planning on going to the Islands in the future. For instance, many of the tour operators have already begun to drop their shorter 7 to 10 day itineraries in favor of longer 14+ day excursions. In fact, week long Galapagos trips may become a thing of the past, as ships wouldn’t be able to visit the same sites with the same regularity, making them very inefficient for tour operators.

That is not to say that shorter trips might not still be available in some form or another, but they will not offer the same level of coverage that the have in the past, and travelers might not get to experience everything they had hoped for.

Also keep in mind that a 14 day Galapagos trip will require 17 or 18 days when you factor in the travel time to Ecuador and the islands themselves. That may mean that those of us with fewer days to spare will be shut out from visiting the Islands as well.

If you’re visiting the Galapagos this year, your travel plans won’t be impacted, but if you’re planning on going in 2012 or beyond, you may want to reexamine your options.

Take a photographic adventure with National Geographic

Photographic adventures from National Geographic mix travel and learningFans of National Geographic have long been drawn to the magazine’s fantastic photos, with many of us wishing we had the skills to take similar shots ourselves. Now, National Geographic Expeditions is offering us the opportunity to go on a photographic adventure while building and honing those skills along the way.

Nat Geo Expeditions is the travel arm of National Geographic, offering up some excellent adventure travel opportunities to a number of far flung places. But they also offer aspiring photographers the chance to take part in photography workshops held throughout the country including New York, Washington DC, Tuscon, and Santa Fe. Those workshops range in length from 4 to 7 days, and will teach you everything you need to know about using that fancy digital camera that you bought, but never got around to learning how to operate. For dates and pricing on those workshops click here.

Perhaps even more exciting however are the Photo Expeditions that Nat Geo has to offer. Those trips are 8-12 days in length and will send you off to some amazing places where you’ll learn everything you’ve always wanted to know about photography. Destinations include Alaska, Bhutan, Morocco, Costa Rica, and the Galapagos Islands. Much like the workshops, these trips are designed for photographers of all skill levels and are led by National Geographic photographers with years of experience in the field. They also happen to add healthy doses of culture and adventure to the mix. For more information on the Photo Expeditions click here.

For someone who loves to snap photos (like me!), but wishes they had a firmer grasp on the technical aspects of the art (also like me!), these workshops and expeditions are fantastic opportunities to learn from an expert. So whether you use a point and shoot or a high-end DSLR, a National Geographic photographic adventure is sure to be a fantastic experience.

[Photo Credit: National Geographic Expeditions]




Video of the Day – Underwater in the Galapagos


I’m not one to shy away from a good adventure. I’ve bungee jumped Victoria Gorge, plummeted from a plane at 15,000 ft, and stood atop the summit of Kilimanjaro.

But the thought of strapping a cylinder to my back and descending into the depths of the ocean mildly terrifies me.

If there was one video that could change that and make me reconsider my fear, it would be today’s Video of the Day from underwater videographer Darek Sepiolo. Captured along the coast of the Galapágos Islands with a Sony EX1, this 7 minute adventure displays some of the incredible sea life that the Galapágos is famous for. From sea lions and exotic schools of fish, to hammerhead and whale sharks; it’s a stunning glimpse into an entire world that all too often goes unnoticed.

Do you have underwater pictures or video that we should see? Have you faced your fears while traveling? Leave a comment below and it could be tomorrow’s Video/Photo of the Day!