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The Galapagos Guides

January 14, 2014 Luxury Cruises Galapagos No Comments

Tours (57)When you take your trip to the Galapagos Islands, your tour operator is important. The ship or hotel you choose is important, too. Even the time of year you go is important. The most crucial element involved in how much you’ll enjoy your time, however, is probably your guide. Your guide will be with you whenever you are off the cruise ship and will explain the wonders of Galapagos to your group.

Guides and the National Park

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One of the chief duties of the Galapagos guides is accompanying the visitors to the different sites on the islands. According to park rules, visitors MUST be accompanied by a licensed guide while they are in most official visitor sites. This is mostly to insure that the visitor sites are respected: no one can touch the animals, create graffiti on rocks or trees or wander off the trail into an iguana nesting zone. One guide can watch over a maximum of 16 passengers. You don’t need a guide everywhere you go: you are free to wander around the towns unescorted, you don’t need them at the airports, and some visitor sites such as beaches close to the towns can be visited on your own.

How to become a Galapagos Guide


Guides must have a minimum of a high school diploma and a keen interest in tourism, history, geology or biology. In recent years, all guides must be natives of the Galapagos Islands: some of the older guides are from Quito, Guayaquil, or foreign countries. Prospective guides must attend “guide school” where they will learn everything they need to know about the islands: natural history, flora and fauna, park rules, etc. Guides are required to be competent in at least one language other than Spanish. Once a guide has completed the course, he or she is ready to go!

Not All Guides are Created Equal

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Guides are classified as level one, two or three depending on their education, experience and language skills. Especially since the law which requires that all new guides come from the Galapagos, there is a great disparity between the guides in terms of quality.

Some of the older guides have been working in the islands for forty years or more and stumping them with a question is nearly impossible to do, whereas those guides who recently graduated from the guide school may not know much more about the islands than you do.

Although guides must be “competent” in a foreign language, this requirement is applied very loosely, and many guides are “certified” to guide in languages they can barely speak. Some guides have gotten in trouble with operators in the past – sexual harassment of passengers is an all-too-common complaint – but continue to find work anyway.

What Makes a Good Guide


Being a good Galapagos guide is much more than knowing the park rules and how many eggs a Frigate Bird lays. Good guides have exceptional language skills, and some of the best ones speak four languages or more. Many guides possess – or learn – excellent management skills, defusing disagreements among the passengers they work with.

A good guide is patient with his or her guests, letting them snap 5000 photos of that first sea lion they see, even though they know full well that they will see hundreds more over the next few days.

How to Get a Good Galapagos Guide

Barco (16)Unfortunately, you may not have much say over who your guide is. Guides tend to work for one company or as freelance, picking up jobs here and there. Your best bet is to go with a reputable tour operator or ship, because these will only hire reliable guides.

The better ships pay more, so superior guides tend to wind up on these ships in the long run. Low-end cruisers pay rock-bottom wages, so the guides there tend to have some sort of drawback: they are fresh out of guide school, their language skills are not up to par, or, in some cases, they are guides with a long history of some sort of problem, like insubordination, alcoholism or repeated sexual harassment of guests.

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