Because the flora and fauna of the Galapagos Islands are so unique, specialist knowledge is required when exploring the region. This is why Galapagos naturalist guides are so important.
Strict regulations by the Galapagos National Park authorities prevent anyone from visiting the islands without a formal guide. This includes all day trips, land tours, and cruises.
These regulatuons are perfectly acceptable as they prevent hazardous behaviour and help keep the eco-system and the fragile envirement in a pristine condition. One can only imagine what would happen to the wildlife if 200,000+ people stormed unhindered across the landscape each year.
Galapagos naturalist guides are also there keep vistors safe both on land and at sea. Sharks and snakes are common and your guide is trained in how to behave around these creatures.
So, are all Galapagos naturalist guides the same? No. Read on to find out more.
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The Galapagos National Park have strict regulations when it comes to Galapagos naturalist guides. All guides must qualify through a series of exams and courses. These courses are highly competitive and only the highest scoring applicants go through.
There used to be a classification system used to judge a guide's expereince and knowledge. Three levels could be achieved with level 3 being the highest and 1 being the entry grade level for Galapagos guides. However, whilst some guides still have this classification, the level tests have not been offered in 10+ years.
So the only thing you'll know for sure if you get a level 2 or 3 guide is that they have been a guide for a very long time. Does this make them the best? Not necessarily.
Below are three things to consider when choosing a tour or cruise guide.
Have you ever been on a trip or tour in which your guide really made the experience come to life?
Whilst being knowledgeable on the wildlife, geology, and weather of the region is great, being able to communicate that knowledge in a charismatic and entertaining way is hugely important. No one wants a lecture on the beach that leaves you checking your watch every 5 minutes.
This is why the personality of your guide is so important. The problem is finding out ahead of time if your guide is up to the task. Luckily, most major Galapagos operators and tours have been reviewed to death. So you should be able to get a good sense from what reviews say about the guide in question.
Obviously you need your guide to speak your language. Don't assume that all Galapagos naturalist guides speak English - they don't.
If you speak another language such as German or French then you'll need to find a specialist guide who can speak the language. Always check prior to booking as this can be a real disappointment for some visitors.
Like most things in life, the more you pay, the better quality you get. This holds true for Galapagos naturalist guides also.
The more expensive cruises tend to get better tips for the staff. This attracts the best guides who, understandably, want to make more money. You can bet that most luxury cruise operators will employ level 3 guides.
The best Galapagos naturalist guides will generally have a related Degree or Masters qualification and be able to speak two or three languages. Once again though, this is no proof of charisma.
To protect the environment as much as possible, it's imperative that you follow your guide's instructions.
Don't be annoyed if your guide tells you step back or reminds you of a rule. They know that visitors can get carried away, forget things, and want to get close to the cute animals. But in order for the islands to remain a haven for animals, the rules must be respected.
Below are some of the most important rules you'll need to keep in mind when visiting.
1. Never bring food onto an uninhabited island. the effects of animals eating our food could be devastating. Obviously no littering either.
2. No flash photography. The island will be bright enough for photography and flashes may disturb nesting birds.
3. Stay at least six feet away (two meters) from the wildlife. This is to protect both you and the animals from coming into contact. Obviously it cannot be avoided sometimes, especially when snorkelling or diving.
4. Smoking, drinking, and fires are banned on uninhabited islands. This is to protect the fragile eco-system.
The most important thing to practise while visiting the islands is the “leave-no-trace” principles that will help the environment continue to thrive. For more rules, please see here.
If you have any queries or questions regarding Galapagos naturalist guides, please feel free to contact us or leave a comment below.
Thank you and happy travels!
Expedition Cruise Team
Burnham started his career as a professional tennis player before retiring due to injury. Since then Burnham has thrown himself into adventure travel. He has cruised to some of the most iconic and obscure parts of the planet.