It's incredible to think that ten years of Galapagos Unbound adventures have already blown by! This trip holds an important place in my heart, as it was our first breakthrough international trip. From there, the rest is history.
We first started operations in Ecuador in 1991, pioneering a whitewater rafting trip on the Rio Upano in the Amazon Basin. In 1994, after guiding a few of our whitewater trips, I had a chance to go to the Galápagos. As I stood watching from the deck of the small yacht, I kept thinking to myself, "Wow, this would be an amazing place for sea kayaking trips. Beautiful beaches, sheltered paddling areas, incredible wildlife." At the time, all of the trips in the Galápagos were aboard yachts or small ships. There was no such thing as "land-based tours," as there are now. So this was a new idea, and one which, we later discovered, the National Park Service was not very receptive to.
"At the time, all of the trips in the Galápagos were aboard yachts or smalls ships. There was no such thing as "land tours," as there are now."
The first step was to do some exploring. So we ran a low-key kayak exploratory in early 1996 along the shores of San Cristobal. We found ideal beaches for camping and the framework for a fantastic expedition. However, the beaches were dirty with debris brought in by the tides as well as local fishermen who used them as a sort of free dry dock to paint their boats. They'd bring their boats up in high tide and when the tide went out the boat was beached, with hull exposed, ready to be scraped and painted.
Based on our research, I asked our Ecuadorian partner to apply for permits for sea kayaking tours. We made the case that if the Park would allow us to camp, we would clean up the beaches. We also made the case that our kayaks would have much less impact on the environment than motorized yachts. It made total environmental sense, yet we were denied. The next year we applied again, with a more refined application. Again we were denied. This was the pattern until 2004 when we discovered a little clause in the Park regulations that cracked open the door and made for a better case for allowing us to run our trips.
In late 2005, eleven years after my first trip to the Galápagos, we attained permission to run a test trip, and, if that went well, we'd have permission to run more. In November we did that trip, taking along New York Time's writer Tim Neville and Idaho photographer Chad Case. Tim wrote a superb article graced with Chad's dramatic photography that was published January 8, 2006. When staff arrived at our Coeur d'Alene, Idaho office the next morning we had over 200 phone messages and emails, and the phone was ringing off the hook. By Wednesday of that week, we had essentially filled all of the seven departure dates listed in the NY Times article! We scrambled to secure more hotel reservations, more flights, and add dates.
You see, there was a huge pent up demand from people that wanted to go to the Galápagos, but didn't want to travel on a boat. Ours was the first tour offering a land-based alternative with kayaking, hotel stays, and four nights of camping on the beaches inside of the Park. It was an excellent itinerary, and an all-new way to experience the Galápagos.
"Ours was the first tour offering a land-based alternative with kayaking, hotel stays, and four nights of camping on the beaches inside of the Park... an all-new way to experience the Galápagos."
Now that we had folks signing up for the first trip that would take place in March 2006, we had to scramble to get gear in place. We imported kayaks from Argentina, camping gear from the US, and bought what we could locally. The first season was a grand success.
Since that first trip in 2006, well over 4,000 people have joined us on our Galapagos Unbound tour. The itinerary has changed some due to shifting Park regulations and other factors, but the core trip remains. In addition, we've designed a new, more kayak-centric itinerary that appeals to those looking for more time in kayaks and camping.
The Galápagos Islands remain one of the most fantastic wildlife viewing experiences on earth. If you haven't been yet, I encourage you to move it to the top of your bucket list! Today, there are other companies who have tried to copy what we do; but the fact remains that our trip is still the only one combining camping on the beaches and kayaking. I hope you'll share this incredible experience with us!
Cheers to 10 years of Galápagos Unbound adventures, and thank you for all of the support along the way!
Yours in travel,