Structured team-building activities aren’t necessary when meeting participants bond over nature’s wonders. By Barb and Ron Kroll
Ships host meetings in the Galapagos.
A national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site, Galápagos is home to some of the world’s most unusual creatures. Where else can you see penguins on the equator and birds with blue feet? Charles Darwin’s 1835 visit to the Galápagos inspired his book, On the Origin of Species.
The archipelago of 13 major, six minor and 100 rocky islets is located 1,000 km west of Ecuador. To get there, groups fly to Guayaquil (GYE) or Quito (UIO), Ecuador, where they overnight before flying to San Cristóbal (SCY) or Baltra (GPS) in the Galápagos.
Nearly 90 ships operate in the Galápagos. The largest carry 90 to 100 passengers. Mid-size ships carry 32 to 48 passengers, while yachts hold 16 to 32.
The largest ships, such as M/V Galapagos Explorer II, offer a conference room, pool, Jacuzzis and some balcony accommodations. Small meeting groups (less than 20) can charter yachts like the new M/Y Galapagos Grand Odyssey, which holds 16 passengers. Although dining rooms and lounges double as meeting space, delegates have the ship to themselves.
Most ships cruise at night, so passengers arrive at new destinations each morning. Morning and afternoon excursions leave little time for long meetings onboard. Both Guayaquil and Quito have excellent meeting facilities in hotels, convention centres and other venues. For Galápagos cruise groups, it’s convenient to arrange pre- or post-cruise meetings in hotels, such as the five-star Hotel Oro Verde Guayaquil and Swissôtel Quito, where participants stay before flying to the islands.
Galapagos is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Since 97 per cent of Galápagos is national park, only five islands have settlements. Santa Cruz Island has the largest population. Meeting facilities are minimal in its small four- to five-star hotels, which arrange Santa Cruz tours and boat excursions to nearby islands. Located in the highlands, Royal Palm Hotel has accommodations for 40, a gourmet restaurant, a library/conference room, AV equipment, WiFi and an art gallery/conference room (capacity 60).
Running year-round, Galápagos cruises range from four to 15 days. Galápagos National Park strictly controls access to 70 land and 75 marine sites. New park rules require that ships visit popular sites a maximum of once every 14 days.
A park-certified naturalist guide must accompany groups of no more than 16 people. A maximum of five groups of 16 can visit a site at one time. Ecoventura’s three 20-passenger ships (M/Y Eric, Flamingo I and Letty) feature only 10 passengers per guide.
Guides enforce park rules, which include no food, alcohol or smoking on the islands; keeping at least two metres from wildlife and not touching them if they come closer. They also provide evening briefings about daily hikes, snorkelling trips and kayaking (on select ships).
Each island offers unique activities. Fernandina has so many marine iguanas that you have to be careful not to step on them. On Santa Cruz, you can photograph wild giant tortoises up to 230 kilos in size. Española is the world’s only waved albatross nesting site. Genovesa has red-footed boobies. Participants invariably bond while sharing close encounters with blue-footed booby chicks, cavorting sea lions and red-throated frigatebirds.
Galápagos is accessible to people of average fitness levels. They must be able to get in and out of rubber boats used for shore excursions. Hiking can be on sandy or rocky paths, but the pace is slow, because naturalists stop frequently to talk about flora and fauna.
Environmentally friendly operators help safeguard the pristine environment. Ecoventura’s ships, for example, are Smart Voyager-certified. M/Y Eric was the first Galápagos hybrid-energy vessel.
Galápagos meetings are always memorable. No participant leaves the islands without being touched by their unique wildlife.
—Barb & Ron Kroll publish the trip-planning website, KrollTravel.com
tip: Visit the International Galápagos Tour Operators Association website (igtoa.org) to find the best cruise for your meeting from the 50 cruise companies operating.
Cool/dry season: July to December
Copa Airlines flies from Toronto to Guayaquil and Quito four times weekly via Panama City
Galápagos National Park fee—$100 USD
No inoculations required
Nearly 90 ships operate in the area
Drop a postcard into the Post Office Bay barrel used since the 18th century
See Lonesome George, the last-surviving giant tortoise of his sub-species
Official Language: Spanish. English is used on cruise ships.