Short answer: Virtually zero.
When it comes to a UNESCO World Heritage Site as magnificent and unique as the Galapagos Islands, every part of the process involved in visiting it needs to be regulated and supervised as much as possible. Said supervision is an aspect of visits that, for guests, is almost entirely imperceptible. But much in the same way that tiny drops of water are what make the ocean, all who visit (along with those who permanently live there) have a powerful role in protecting the park. So, the only impact that we should truly aim to have is to keep it the Islands the way they’ve always been. Your vessel and tour operator take care of the rest: from managing logistics to helping make sure that guests practice sustainable travel around the islands in the most sustainable way possible. When it comes to visitor impact on the Galapagos environment, the Galapagos National Park does its part in keeping a watchful eye over all guests and operations. They are, in a certain sense, the respected Watchmen of the Galapagos – beginning with the Expedition Leader and then our Naturalist Guides.
Visitor Impact on the Galapagos Environment #1: A (Relatively) Minimal Footprint on the Galapagos National Park
A lot of guests often arrive well aware that they’re not the only ones visiting the islands. Dozens if not hundreds of potential passengers come in on flights on a daily basis, and dozens of boats operate within the archipelago to help send them on their respective itineraries. Guests constantly wonder: Just how many people are visiting this remarkable place?
The Galapagos National Park (GNP) strictly regulates how many visitors are allowed into the park. A maximum of 1,660 people on boats and 180 on day cruises are what’s allowed per day in a radius of 4,970 mi2 (8,000 km2) that the park consists of. To put that into perspective, The Louvre Museum receives an average of 22,000 visitors per day while the White House (5,100 m² / 55,000 ft²) receives an average of 6,000 visitors per day.
Note: The limit of guests allowed into the GNP have remained the same over the past two decades. Law regulates that these be kept stable.
Secondly: In addition to regulating the number of visitors, the GNP also plays a huge role in maintaining the park as pristine as possible. As part of these efforts, guests arrive and contribute to the GNP by paying the $100 park entrance fee, which goes miles in terms of helping the park keep its sites and the islands themselves, along with the iconic flora, safe and well-preserved.
The visitor footprint is therefore diminished powerfully by regulation, and also by supervision, which brings us to the next point…
Visitor Impact on the Galapagos Environment #2: Expedition Leaders and Naturalist Guides at the Forefront of Lowering Any Impact by Visitors
Guests cannot visit the Galapagos National Park without the company of a Naturalist Guide. The ratio of guides to guests stands at a maximum of 1:16. What this does is create an elevated level of supervision that keeps the guests from doing things that might otherwise inadvertently damage the park or affect the wildlife. More often than not, you’ll hear guides reminding guests to stay on the trail or to not get any closer to the animals. They are also constantly educating visitors on reasons why the Islands are such a delicate environment, and informing them about the fragile nature and lives of the species that live here.
This all helps to keep visitors impact on the Galapagos environment to a near minimum. So don’t be shy and let your wariness get the best of you! The Galapagos Islands welcomes you with open arms, so long as you remain respectful of just how fragile and unique the islands are!