Leave No Trace on the Galapagos Islands – How to Minimize Your Impact

As the Boy Scouts will tell you, one of the most important rules of visiting and exploring a natural environment is to “leave no trace.” That basically means that after you leave, there should be no evidence that you were ever there. In the Galapagos Islands, this is more important than ever now that tourism has made this a top destination for over 200,000 people annually.

The pristine environment of the Galapagos Islands is the result of concerted conservation efforts on behalf of the Galapagos Islands National Park, scientists, and the commitment of visitors and tour companies to respect the rules and minimize their impact while visiting this sacred archipelago.

The Center for Outdoor Ethics defines the Leave No Trace principles as:

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Leave What You Find
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts
  • Respect Wildlife
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Obviously, you won’t have any campfires on the beach or be camping, so here are some more specific Leave No Trace guidelines to follow when visiting the Galapagos:

  • Stay only on designated trails.
  • Never touch any of the animals, even if they come up to you.
  • Never feed any wildlife. This is just as much for your safety as for their conservation.
  • Don’t take anything out of its natural environment – there are some great souvenir shops in town and on the mainland; there’s no need to take a rock or plant from its natural environment.
  • Don’t disturb any natural habitats – if you see a nest or den, for example, observe it from a safe distance without touching it.
  • Only visit sites when accompanied by a Galapagos National Park guide.
  • Do not introduce any food or animals into the National Park.
  • Don’t litter! Pack out all trash with you and dispose of it on your boat or in a trash receptacle.
  • Fishing is not permitted, unless on a boat authorized by the GNPD.
  • Don’t use flash photography when snapping pics of animals.
  • Do not purchase any products made from banned materials, like coral, natural Galapagos wood, lava rock, or animal parts.

Just follow your guide

If that seems like a lot to remember or if this is your first experience visiting a fragile natural site like the Galapagos Islands, then one easy way to make sure that you are following all of the rules is simply to listen to your guide. Every guide is an expert on Galapagos conservation, and they will let you know exactly what you should and shouldn’t do to respect and protect the precious Galapagos environments.

Although tourism in the Galapagos is growing every year and there are many endangered or vulnerable species, the commitment of the National Park and each visitor to “leave no trace” has helped keep the Galapagos Islands as pristine as it always has been.

Want to do more to protect the Galapagos Islands?

Visiting is actually one of the best ways to play a part in protecting this natural living laboratory – since the tourist traffic is so strictly controlled by the National Park, the $100 National Park Entrance Fee each person pays upon entry to the Galapagos has a major positive impact on the GNPD’s conservation efforts.

Plus, knowledge is power. Nature and the importance of protecting the natural world is at the heart of every Galapagos expedition, so make sure to spread the word when you get back. By sharing your story and the amazing creatures and habitats you experienced with your family and friends, you raise awareness about the need for environmental responsibility now more than ever.