Officials at Galápagos National Park are considering a substantial rate hike for visitors, a move that could make the islands a lot more inaccessible – which is exactly their goal.
The Galápagos Islands are an environmental treasure. Home to giant tortoises, blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas, and Darwin’s famous finches, the Ecuadorian archipelago has lots of natural wonder to offer. Tourists now flock to the Galápagos to the tune of around 276,000 visitors a year, according to statistics compiled by Observatorio de Turismo de Galápagos.
The ceaseless influx of visitors is putting considerable pressure on the island’s fauna and flora, prompting officials at Galápagos National Park to consider a sizable rate hike for tourists coming to the archipelago, reports the New York Times.
The current entrance fee of about £80 hasn’t budged in the past 20 years (Ecuadorians pay just £4 to visit the Galápagos, which, good for them). At the same time, however, costs to maintain the archipelago have most certainly gone up.
A forest of prickly pear cacti in the Galápagos. Photo: National System of Protected Areas
Accordingly, officials with Galápagos National Park have been giving serious consideration to a rate hike, culminating in a recent proposal. While contemplating the rate hike, park officials considered the costs needed to maintain and protect the islands, while also comparing entrance fees to popular theme parks, like Disney, and other wildlife preserves, namely Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.
The proposed rate hike would scale according to two possibilities, according to the New York Times. If visitors to the Galápagos stay in mainland Ecuador for at least three nights, the cost would be £160 per person. But if visitors spend less than two nights in mainland Ecuador, the price would jump to £325 per person. The rationale behind this scheme, aside from the increased revenue and potentially lower volume of visitors, is to boost tourism in Ecuador itself. Daniela Tamayo Córdova, a member of the Galápagos Government Council, told the New York Times that the added revenue would be “used to improve sustainability, tourist experiences, and conservation and management.”
The group has set a deadline of December 31, 2019 to approve the new entrance rate, which would kick in about a year after approval, according to the proposal.
The Galápagos Islands are as special as they’re fragile, and they shouldn’t be treated like a generic tourist destination peppered with hotels, bars, and related distractions. But sadly this is precisely what’s transpiring.
A Galapagos tortoise on the Island of Santa Cruz bathing in a pool. Photo: Michael Perry
“People are imagining piña coladas with sea lions and partying all over,” Fernando Diez, the marketing director for Galápagos tour company Quasar Expeditions, told the New York Times. “Galápagos is not that.”
Indeed, there are now over 150 restaurants and bars in the Galápagos, according to Observatorio de Turismo de Galápagos, and over 300 hotels – an increase of 235 hotels in just 10 years, reports the NYT. To compound this, Airbnbs are emerging as a popular affordable option among tourists to the islands. There’s currently no limit to the number of visitors who arrive by plane, but limits are in place to cap the number of visitors arriving via cruise ships.
All these tourists are putting added pressure on the islands by stressing out local wildlife, potentially introducing invasive species, and contributing to waste, among other threats.
The proposed rate increase is a good way for park officials to invest back into the island and ensure conservation efforts are adequately funded, but at the same time, it could make the islands only accessible to the rich. Whether it would hurt the local economy, particularly the burgeoning tourist industry, remains to be seen.
That said, what matters most is the ongoing preservation of the Galápagos islands. Having them become another Hawaii or Fiji would be a complete – and fully preventable – tragedy.
Featured image: National System of Protected Areas