Galapagos fee hike considered as biologists worry the islands are becoming a ‘beach destination’

Jul 27, 2023 | 0 comments

Under mounting pressure from scientific researchers, the Galapagos Governing Council is considering increasing the entry fee to the islands with the intent of limiting tourism. The Council, however, is receiving strong push-back from the islands’ tourist businesses.

Tourists on the beach at Tortuga Bay on Santa Cruz Island.

Galapagos National Park and Charles Darwin Research Station biologists say increasing numbers of tourists are putting a strain on the Galapagos’ unique eco-system and Ecuador Tourism Director Niels Olsen agrees. “There must be controls of the numbers allowed to protect the environment and we are working with the Governing Council to increase the entry fee for international visitors,” he said.

According to biologists, the original intent of Galapagos’ tourism has been forgotten in recent years. “Lately, the islands have been promoted as a beach destination and this is adversely affecting our very delicate environment,” says researcher Santiago Ron. “The objective of Galapagos tourism has always been to introduce people to the unique flora, fauna and geology of the islands. It was also to allow people to observe the scientific work conducted here.”

He adds: “Beach tourism is incompatible with the conservation of the islands’ biodiversity. Regulation is urgent.”

Ron and others complain about the growing number of hotels, Airbnb rentals and restaurants on Santa Cruz, San Cristobal and Isabela islands. “These encourage the kind of tourism that should be controlled. No new ones should be allowed,” he says.

According to Olsen, the growing crowds at the Tortuga Bay beaches on Santa Cruz Island are an example of the tourism problem. “People are obviously attracted by rankings that say the Galapagos beaches are the best in the world, but this has created a beach and party culture in Puerto Ayora and other locations that go against the tourism model we need to maintain,” he says. “We want international tourists to enjoy the beaches but if they are looking for a party and entertainment atmosphere like Florida or the French Riveriera, the Galapogos are not the place. We need to spread that message.”

Currently, foreign tourists pay a $100 Galapagos entry fee while Ecuadorian citizens and residents pay $6. All travelers, foreign and domestic, pay $20 for the Traffic Control Card.

Researchers at the National Park and Darwin Center are pushing for a “substantial” increase for foreign tourists, although they have not specified an amount. They say it must be enough to “discourage the beach-going crowd.”

Meanwhile, tourist-oriented businesses say no increase is needed, claiming higher fees and stricter tourist controls will hurt business.

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