LIFE IN A DIFFERENT WORLD: The Galapagos Islands

Revival of islands, with fewer tourists

Sea lions on a beach in San Cristobal on the Galapagos Islands. Nature is thriving during the lockdown, with no tour cruises and little activity, and there is a proposal to give the Galapagos a week of rest every year.
Sea lions on a beach in San Cristobal on the Galapagos Islands. Nature is thriving during the lockdown, with no tour cruises and little activity, and there is a proposal to give the Galapagos a week of rest every year.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Sea lions on a beach in San Cristobal on the Galapagos Islands. Nature is thriving during the lockdown, with no tour cruises and little activity, and there is a proposal to give the Galapagos a week of rest every year.
ARTURO IZURIETA, 56, CONSULTANT, EX-EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF CHARLES DARWIN FOUNDATION

For the past two months, many of the world's most popular destinations have been shuttered, leaving monuments, museums, shops, restaurants, bars and streets almost empty. As the world reopens and residents step out, they are faced with the reality that life today is different from what it was before the coronavirus pandemic, and will likely remain so for some time. One of the most significant differences - a bittersweet realisation for most - is that there are currently no tourists to attend to or crowds to shuffle through. Residents in some of the most crowded tourist spots reveal what it's like.

It reminds me of when I came here in 1994. The lockdown is from 2 in the afternoon until 5am. Taxis are allowed only once a week based on licence numbers. There're fewer cars and scooters are not allowed. You need a permit for motorbikes.

I come to town to see a woman who prepares ceviche. My wife says: "Let's give her a hand" and I cycle there with a mask on.

I'm waving at people without knowing who they are.

In 1994, most people were at Parque San Francisco, where the post office was, near the municipal dock. A few in the streets, which is more or less what you get now. In the 1980s, most of the tourists would just walk the highlands.

I haven't missed tourists but I do put them in the equation of how the Galapagos will restart. But missing them? No. Maybe hotels and tour operators miss them.

My mind has been drifting towards my family and life, meditating on opportunities that could arise. Galapagos is shut completely, no cruises, nothing. Why not take advantage of that and give the Galapagos a week of rest, every year?

There is a proposal to discuss this with civil institutions and residents. This is the Galapagos we dreamt of. People are waking up to the revival of the islands, having a cap on tourists.

We are already surviving without any activity. Every day, you have the freezer truck with the fishermen, giving away fish. Whoever can afford to pay, pays.

Since March 14, two months with no operations. Restructuring the cruise ships would need to be included in that week. This would give a lot of credit and recognition to the Galapagos. I think people are sensible enough to realise it would bring more benefit than anything else. It's a big idea that we have to try. Do I sound too optimistic?

 
 
 
 
 

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 24, 2020, with the headline 'Revival of islands, with fewer tourists'. Print Edition | Subscribe