Galápagos National Park

Visitors checking out the volcanic Galápagos landscape

Galápagos recorded a 13% jump in tourism in 2013, a total of 204,295 visitors, according to figures just released by the Environment Ministry of Ecuador and the Galápagos National Park.

65% of the visitors were from foreign countries while Ecuadorians accounted for the remaining 35%.  Americans made up the largest group of foreign visitors, 50,393 of them, accounting for 25% of total tourists.  Other countries with substantial numbers of Galápagos tourists included the United Kingdom at 10%, Germany and Canada at 4% apiece.

Visitors tended to be young adults.  Those in the 26-35 age group were more than 20% of the total.  But among foreigners, there was also a spike among older visitors aged 61-67, perhaps reflecting recent surveys showing that Galápagos was the number one destination that people put at the top of their “bucket lists.”  More than 20,000 foreigners aged 61-67 were counted as Galápagos visitors in 2013.

Graphic: Galápagos Digital

The foreigners, 55% of them, preferred to visit Galápagos aboard cruise ships while 73% of Ecuadorians chose land-based tourism and stayed in hotels, hostels and private homes.

These numbers do not please everyone. Rick Schleicher, who operates a highly regarded tourism business in San Cristóbal, said 200,000 plus visitors a year, particularly those who stay on land, is not a welcome development.  “The proliferation of mass, land-based tourism,” he said, creating what he called a “land bridge” with the Ecuadorian mainland, “is a bad thing for flora and fauna that have evolved and survived, until recently, in complete isolation.” He also said that the increase in land visitors has a negative impact on the infrastructure of the inhabited islands, including water, sewer and electrical systems.

But the Ecuadorian government continues to encourage tourism, spending millions on an ad campaign titled “All You Need is Ecuador,” using the old Beatles hit, “All You Need is Love” as its signature jingle.