The title of this post is just a tease into the real issues of planning a visit to the Galápagos Islands. Yes, there are problems to overcome, selection of an agency to assist in navigating the mindless governmental regulations, fueling regulations and exaggerated Eco issues to deal with but... it can be done.
However be aware, there is a big disconnect between the anticipation of the problems coming here and the reality of actually doing so.
Obviously, for a sailing yacht planning to cross the Pacific, there is little choice in deciding to plan a visit here. The 850 nm distance from Panama necessitates stopping here at minimum to provision and refuel before starting the additional 3100 nm passage to the Marquesas. As long as you are here you might as well see the sights. However, who you choose to help you navigate the labyrinth of bureaucracy will test your resolve and your wallet.
Four months in advance of our arrival, I began our search for a company to assist us. If you search online, you see the frustration in most sailors who plan to come here. There appear to be a number of companies ‘specializing’ in helping yachts with their activities while in Galápagos. However, almost all of them have a less than stellar reputation from the sailor community and some have been downright lambasted for their incompetency and ineffectiveness at resolving even simple issues. In short, most of them suck.
I attempted to weed through the discussions on the many forums and get the facts that would allow me to not make the same mistake as so many have. I sent email, interviewed potential companies and found a huge discrepancy between their offers. One, Galápagos Yacht Agency, offered to take care of all our needs for the princely sum of US$25,000. Yeah, right…
A sailing friend pointed me to a guy he worked with last year that worked out well for him however he never answered the many emails I sent so using him as a solution seemed doubtful. The ever popular Noonsite had many comments regarding handlers on Galápagos however, when sorting through the comments, none of them seemed competent or suitable. Several captains of other large sailing yachts I spoke with all expressed their dissatisfaction with their choices while in Galápagos so it seemed dim that I would be successful in my selection.
During another search of the internet for somebody that had something good to say about a company I came across one called Pacific Bound Yachts. Once contacted, they passed along rave reviews from past clients, and sent me a fancy PDF file of a tailored agenda for our time in Galápagos. I corresponded with the owner, Lisa Greenberg, over a number of weeks asking questions and getting answers in a timely fashion. Her fees for assisting us seems reasonable for what she said she was going to do and she told me she had employees on each island in Galápagos who would hand-hold us, make our clearances and refueling effortless and leave us to simply enjoy the experience with her tour guides. She alleged to have been doing this for twenty years and was an expert in taking care of yachts visiting Galápagos.
I decided to give her the business and wire transferred a significant amount of money up front to arrange for our arrival, clearance, cruising permit, etc. Upon our arrival at San Cristobal, everything started to fall apart. Starting with the local person working for Lisa, we waited all day at anchor (after our long passage) for them to arrange for our inspection and clearance. After fruitless emails to Lisa and phone calls to her local employee, we finally had our inspection and clearance procedure start at 15:30. It took 2 hours before all the papers were signed, hull inspection, etc. were accomplished and we were finally able to go ashore.
Lisa’s response to this clumsy (in her words) handling was that the person taking care of us was going to be fired and we were the last yacht she would be taking care of. Lisa also mentioned she was actually located in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and we needed to accept the lag time between contacting her and problem resolution in Galápagos (wish she’d mentioned that detail before I signed up).
I wish I could say it all got better from there however that was just the beginning of many problems. On each island, her local people were largely unresponsive to helping us and when they did, we ended up in broken-down vehicles with guides who seemed to just want to recite something they read rather than have a passion and true knowledge for their job (the exception was the guide we had on Isabella, Alfredo, who was wonderful!). The constant lag time between communicating our wishes for tours, clearances, fueling to Lisa (who insisted on this process) rather than to her local people caused unacceptable delays and sometimes entire days of missed activities.
On Santa Cruz we found out the local person she ‘employed’ was actually Johnny Romero who himself in the same business as Lisa. Apparently, her employee’s on all the islands were really not working for her but completely independent. As it turned out, we should have just hired Johnny to take care of things as he ended up doing most of the work for us during our visit and filled in a lot when Lisa failed us.
After leaving the Galápagos I’ve tried fruitlessly to get an accounting from Lisa on the funds I sent her and it appears she has decided to ignore me and keep whatever money was left. This despite the fact that she told me she’d forgo her usually $1400 handling fee because of all the problems we experienced. In my opinion, working with Pacific Bound Yachts has huge problems and is to be avoided.
So, another sad story to add to the long list of experiences at trying to get a good handler for a visit to the Galápagos. My recommendation for anyone planning a visit to Galápagos is to first contact Johnny Romero to see if he is available. Then negotiate his fees, etc. before you arrive. Be sure to get a local SIM card for your phone so you can more easily communicate with him and try to have a great time!
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