Sustainable Tourism
1/5: History of Tourism

With over 150,000 tourists visiting each year, the Galapagos Islands have become a very attractive holiday destination. What impacts do all these visitors have and how can they continue to visit the islands without destroying them too?

History of Tourism

When did visitors first start coming to the Galapagos Islands? For thousands of years, the Galapagos Islands were a set of Islands unknown to the world, lying hundreds of miles away from the populated coast of Ecuador. The Islands were well known to botanists, but it wasn’t until 1934 that the first tourists made their way to the Galapagos. A group of adventurous tourists visited the Islands aboard the Stella Polaris, a cruise ship, and started a trend that would continue for decades.


What attracts tourists to Galapagos and where do they come from?

Many visitors to the Galapagos Islands are attracted to the archipelago by its unique wildlife and stunning landscapes. The amazing variety of beaches and forest habitats means the Islands offer a place for tourists to explore and learn more about these special Islands with the help of guides from the Galapagos National Park. Many visitors to the Islands say that the wildlife is often the most memorable part of their visits. Giant tortoises, iguanas and Galapagos penguins are very popular species to spot and the wealth of birdlife also make the Islands a hotspot for ornithologists. An increasing number of tourists are learning to scuba dive in the pristine tropical waters of the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

Visitors come from all over the world to visit the Enchanted Islands (a name given to Galapagos by the author Herman Melville).

Where do tourists stay on the island?

The Islands provide different types of accommodation to suit many different types of traveller. At the moment, most tourists choose to stay on cruise ships, but a growing number of visitors are choosing to stay onshore in hotels. The hotels Islands are particularly popular with the increasing numbers of backpackers visiting the Islands. For many years, getting to the Islands was difficult and for most tourists, cruise ships were the only way of getting to the Islands. However, in 1965, Seymour Airport on the island of Baltra, which was an airstrip used by American troops in the Second World War, opened to customers. The opening of the airport made the Islands much more accessible to tourists. In 2007, a second airport on Galapagos was completed. Tourists could now also fly to San Cristobal Airport via the Ecuadorian mainland. This means that visitors from Europe can now reach the Islands within around twenty hours (much quicker than it used to be!). Visitors that travel by ship have more choices over where they can dock. In 2006, San Cristobal completed the upgrade of its dock to make it more tourist-friendly.

Next: Sustainable Tourism – The Impacts of Tourism