Galapagos: an exotic and safe destination

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In the months since the November terrorist attack in Paris and the March bombing of the Brussels airport, Americans did something that may seem counterintuitive. They went to Europe more, with travelers up 5 percent in April, according to the Department of Commerce’s National Travel & Tourism Office, according to this note of New York Times.

Most of those trips were probably booked well in advance, as international travel usually is, and these numbers predate the June terrorist bombing in Istanbul and the Bastille Day truck attack in Nice. But airline data, tourism statistics and the reports of travel agencies and tour operators show international travel is alive and well, though it may be shifting to countries like Spain and Ireland in the European Union, as well as farther-flung destinations like the Galapagos Islands, even as travel to closer-to-home destinations like Canada and the national parks surges.

“It’s not a great year to have France as your No. 1 destination,” said Norman Howe, president and chief executive of the high-end tour operator Butterfield & Robinson, which historically conducted most of its trips in France. This year, Italy has supplanted France, where the company’s business is down 10 to 15 percent. “In France, there was a sustained cycle of events starting around last November, and the reality is these days we’re not falling off a cliff, but there’s a cumulative effect.”

One place that has benefited among Butterfield & Robinson’s clients is North America, where business has doubled. Trips have surged to Newfoundland, Quebec and British Columbia. “Canada’s a triple whammy,” Mr. Howe said, citing its popular new prime minister, the favorable exchange rate and its reputation as safe. At Abercrombie & Kent, Europe still did well this summer, especially Italy and Spain. “We’ve seen very, very few cancellations in areas specifically impacted by terrorism issues in Europe,” said Keith Baron, a senior vice president. “We have seen a slowdown in new business to those areas.”

It’s hard to pin terrorism fears to the spike in interest in America’s National Parks, especially given their widely publicized centennial celebration this year, but traffic has jumped for several operators, including Austin Adventures. “As we talk to guests, many who have families, they are not giving up on Europe, but are just looking closer to home for now,” wrote Dan Austin, the owner of Austin Adventures, in an email. “Europe was the only region where we saw a dip in bookings. Everything else across the board was up, with domestic travel seeing the biggest increase. For us, domestic travel definitely picked up the Europe fallout.”

Bookings at Ovation Vacations, a New York agency that specializes in luxury travel, went to Italy, Spain and Greece, while its France business fell by 43 percent. Having suffered its own downturn in the last few years related to bankruptcy concerns and refugee traffic, Greece rebounded strongly. Still, the biggest gains were domestic.

“In my market, our people are going to travel,” said Jack S. Ezon, president of Ovation Vacations. “They may just change where they’re going this year. They said, ‘All right, I can always go back to Paris. Why go this year? This year, let’s explore something new.’ For so many of them, new and exotic became the Grand Canyon. Some have been to Luang Prabang or the Irrawaddy River and the Mekong, but they’ve never been to Arizona.”

Airlines have done their part to stimulate European travel by dropping prices. The airfare prediction app Hopper found that this August, relative to August 2015, airfares dropped the most to Europe, by 22.5 percent, compared with other regions, including domestic.

“We’ve seen incredible discounting to Europe over this last summer, and we’re still seeing traffic being weak,” said Patrick Surry, chief data scientist with Hopper. He said that European searches were down by nearly a quarter over last year, with Mexico, Central America and United States destinations picking up that slack.

Still, Europe has bright spots in places like Spain and Ireland. In the first half of the year, the online travel planner Expedia found its air traffic rise 20 percent to Madrid and Barcelona, and 33 percent to Dublin.

Confirming those trends, Tourism Ireland said its year-to-date traffic from North America was up 18 percent in the first five months of the year, with year-over-year growth of 80,000 more North American visitors in May alone. The Tourist Office of Spain showed an increase of international visitors in June, up 12.7 percent over June 2015. For the first six months of 2016, Americans accounted for nearly 900,000 visitors to Spain, an increase of almost 8 percent over the same period last year.

“In every crisis there’s an opportunity,” said Mr. Ezon, who has sent many clients to Ibiza, Majorca, Andalusia and, for those interested in food, the Basque region. “The iconic cities in general — London, Paris and Rome — are down. People are drawn to secondary cities for safety concerns.”

Nonetheless, the Virtuoso network of luxury travel agencies found that eight of its top 10 vacation destinations booked this summer were in Europe, including France at No. 3 (Italy and Britain were one and two, with Spain at four). The biggest gainers in terms of year-over-year bookings were Tanzania (98%), Portugal (88%) and Ireland (58%). Whether the impetus is to see Arctic glaciers before global warming shrinks them, or to go remote, Scandinavian traffic has picked up with some operators, ranging from Abercrombie & Kent, on the high end, to SmarTours on the more affordable end.

“The overall trend of interest in the northern realms — Norway, Iceland and our Northern Lights trips — is continuing, and may be a result of fears of terrorism, or simply a discovery of these fantastic destinations,” wrote Barbara Banks, director of marketing and new trip development for Wilderness Travel, in an email.

“Iceland is hot,” Mr. Ezon said. “It’s again perceived as safe by a lot of people because it’s so off the radar screen.”

The concept of what’s exotic is a relative term, but long-haul air traffic to Asia has been slowly growing over the last few years. In South America, Metropolitan Touring, a major operator in the Galápagos Islands, reported strong growth among North Americans, up 11 percent June through the start of September versus the year prior.

3 reasons to travel to Galapagos

Nature

When in Isabela, a quick trip to The Tintoreras Islet (named after the shark species) is a must. The approximate travel time from ‘Puerto Villamil’ to this beautiful site is approximately 10 minutes by boat.The small island has a radiant turquoise bay in which you can see an array of animals such as sea turtles, iguanas, sea lions and reef sharks.

The next step you take after you get to The Tintoreras is a pleasant walk that leads you through two beautiful beaches before reaching the bay. The first of the two beaches is completely covered in white sand with sunbathing sea lions, the second is a black stone beach home to a large community of marine iguanas. The iguanas prefer this area to breed as there are no non-endemic animals posing as a threat. When you finally reach The Tintoreras, take out your camera and be prepared to snap pictures of the most amazing animals resting peacefully in their natural habitat. Please note though that you will not be able to swim in these waters as it will disturb the animals, especially the marine iguanas that are probably nesting.

Get to know some curious facts about the animals you will see:

The Tintoreras:

These coral sharks have a white back and grey belly and also have a few dark spots that help them camouflage in the water. They mostly travel in schools, are small in size and are surprisingly quite shy. These little fellas are safe to swim with as long as you don’t bother them.

Sea Lions:

There are two endemic species of their kind in The Galapagos: the sea lions (Zalophus Wollebaeki) and the Galapagos Fur Seal (Arctocephalus Galapagoensis). These cute mammals can be found almost anywhere on archipelago; you’ll usually find them taking a relaxing swim or chilling near the water. The sea lions make an unmistakable barking sound and likely to socialize with humans. Don’t get too comfortable though as these furry friends tend to get quite territorial.

Iguanas:

Like the sea lions, there are two types of iguanas, water and land iguanas. Land iguanas have three subspecies: Conolophus subcristatus (yellow iguanas), Conolophus pallidus (native to the Santa Fe Island) and Conolophus marthae (pink iguanas). On the other hand,water iguanas are darker in colour. After a long day of swimming, these sporty reptiles can be seen blowing sea salt from their nostrils.

Sea Turtles:

The Galapagos Sea Turtles are dark green in colour and a bit smaller than other green turtles as they are endemic to the Pacific Ocean. Female turtles always return to the same spot to nest, almost always during nighttime as it is less likely that the hatchlings will get attacked by predators. It is a pretty amazing experience to see little baby turtles walk toward the ocean where they will spend their first 24 hours of their lives learning how to swim.

Swimming With Sea Turtles

Celebrities Love The Galapagos Too

The Galapagos Islands are an incredible holiday destination experienced by tourists from all around the world. Some visitors choose to travel by sea, others by land and some arrive in private jets. Yes, you heard it! We have had some very famous celebrities visit The Enchanted Islands and seeing as they are humans just like us, they have fallen completely in love with them as well.

Here is a list of a few different celebrities that have enjoyed The Galapagos as much as we have:

Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and family:

Pitt and Jolie enjoyed a family vacation in Galapagos in 2012. The trip was in celebration of the couple’s engagement after 7 years of dating. The family can be seen swimming and playing in Galapagos’s clear blue waters.

Chevy Chase, Bill Gates, Leonardo DiCaprio, Edward Norton, Glenn Close and Daryl Hannah:

galapagos-trip-leonardo-dicaprio

This awesome group took a quick visit to The Galapagos after coming over to Ecuador for an environmental conference. During the trip, they met up with Ecuador’s then vice president, Lenin Moreno, and DiCaprio began a very strong campaign in favor of Yasuni’s preservation.

Bo Derek:

The beautiful actress visited The Galapagos in 2007 and fell deeply in love with the lazy -but very cute- sea lions. She even went on to work towards Galapagos Conservancy.

Amazing food

Chef Byron Rivera is fully aware of this and that is why he creates scrumptious dishes using the ingredients of the place he is in. Rivera is the chef in charge of the Metropolitan Touring Cruise Ships in Galapagos, and is also head chef of Finch Bay Hotel which is also on the archipelago.

His work consists in exploring ingredients of the area he is in to create new dishes that also impulse the island’s sustainability for example; volcanic salt, red lobster, canchalagua (a mollusk), among other products.

Food

Thus, Rivera creates dishes that are in peace with the environment as well as innovative in flavour. Byron Rivera graduated from the Cordon Bleu University of Lima Peru as a master cuisinier where he learnt his cooking techniques. One thing’s for sure, his thirst for learning didn’t end after graduating, he explores, explores and explores to keep the inspiration in his kitchen alive.

According to the Chef, “anyone can adopt techniques but passion in the kitchen cannot be taught”. Rivera has received offers to work in different countries, he could well be in New York, Buenos Aires but knows that life’s journey should be walked with no hurry. He believes that Ecuador is a country that hasn’t been exploited gastronomically speaking even though it has so much to offer.

Food journalist and serial Galapagos travel