The focus of this month’s interview is Harry Jiménez, who, with his wife Lucrecia Cordera Barrera, owns and operates Galapagos Eco Friendly on San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos Islands. For the many guests who make Galapagos Eco Friendly their base for day trips by boat or on land in and around San Cristobal, Harry customizes, plans and arranges all tours, including hiking, scuba diving, snorkeling, and photography expeditions. Galapagos Eco Friendly is the culmination of years of thought and planning that began in Harry’s childhood growing up within the profound beauty and rare ecological system of the Galapagos Islands.
Harry, can you tell us a bit about the history of Galapagos Eco Friendly. I see that it’s been in existence since 2011. Has the property gone through many changes since you first started hosting visitors?
I can’t think of a better way to introduce visitors to the Galápagos Islands than to have them stay in our private family enclave in a real neighborhood on San Cristobal Island, within walking distance to the center of town and beach. Besides, as a third generation citizen of Galapagos and a guide certified by the Galapagos National Park Service, it’s not an exaggeration to say that my greatest delight is when I’m given the opportunity to share my love for, and knowledge of, these gorgeous and unique islands. The area in and around San Cristobal is especially rich with visitor sites and endemic flora and fauna on the land and marine reserves.
We built the hotel so that we can host Galapagos visitors and share our culture, love for the environment and conservation, and most of all, give them a remarkable adventure that will provide lifetime memories. Here, they will get personal service and a true taste of the Galápagos Islands.
The hotel evolves all the time as we learn more about how to enhance the experience of being here. In the beginning, we didn’t serve breakfast, but now we include a large breakfast with our room rates and feature local foods, like coffee grown right on San Cristobal. And the vista of the town and ocean from the dining area can’t be seen anywhere else on the island.
We’ve also worked really hard to make endemic gardens and areas with hammocks for relaxation at the end of a busy day of touring.
Just recently I also added a jacuzzi. And by this I mean that I actually built it myself, just as I designed and constructed the entire hotel and the grounds myself. We provide bicycles free of charge and have an extensive research library. Plans are always in the works for more expansion and amenities.
Also, we’ve started to receive some very prestigious awards including two Certificates of Excellence and two Travelers’ Choice Awards, and we have been named a Platinum Level Green Leader and the Number One Bed and Breakfast on San Cristobal by TripAdvisor.
Have you noticed any changes in the backgrounds or types of your visitors, or in their interests, since you first opened the lodge?
Guests travel to Galapagos Eco Friendly from around the world; we’ve literally hosted visitors from every continent, but especially from the U.S, Ecuador, and throughout Europe. We have become known not only for our personal service, but for our knowledge of the islands and enthusiasm for making sure that everyone gets to have a really memorable experience. This service distinguishes us from any other hotel on the island.
The biggest change though is that each year more Galapagos visitors have turned away from visiting on a cruise where they are subject to a strict itinerary and a group’s mentality. Instead, we are seeing that responsible ecotourists are staying in locally-owned and operated hotels. In fact, this trend is so pronounced that the Ministry of Tourism has become a strong advocate of land-based tourism and no new cruise licenses are being issued. There are many reasons for this new model which stimulates the local economy, introduces our guests to our culture, is considerably less expensive than a cruise and allows them to pursue their own interests. When you think about it, staying with a Galapagueño family, having the chance to unwind in solitude at the end of an adventurous day, and seizing the opportunity to have real Ecuadorian meals and experience our exciting nightlife sounds pretty good!
Also, I think that ecotourism has become increasingly important over the last several years–so now we see guests who are environmentally aware and committed to sustainability and conservation. They care about the fact that 60% of our power is wind-driven, that we use LED lighting, build with local or recycled materials, and emphasize energy efficiency. They really enjoy walking a few minutes or bicycling into the town and getting a sense of place. And another thing that I’ve noticed is that, although we have wifi, people don’t care as much that it’s not as fast or steady as in New York City. They are here for the Galapagos experience. I think that’s a really positive change.
But most of all, over the years, people have come to realize that we all live on this planet together and each and every one of us must do what we can to keep it healthy for future generations.
You offer a variety of tours and excursions, including snorkeling, hiking, and even a “design your own adventure”. What would you say is the most common type of activity that your guests engage in when they visit Galapagos Eco Friendly?
I have planned many different types of trips, all designed based on each individual’s interest. For example, during a three-night stay, day one might include a big breakfast at the hotel, followed by a visit to the Interpretation Center for an introduction to our natural and cultural history, a walk along Main Street and up Frigatebird Hill and Darwin Bay, lunch in a special Ecuadorian restaurant in town, and an afternoon at the beach sunning and watching the surfers.
On day two, a trip to the highlands to see the Galapagos giant tortoises in their natural setting might be followed by a visit to a coffee plantation and to El Junco, the largest fresh water lake in the entire Galápagos Islands. This busy day would end with some relaxing time on the hotel grounds and a trip into town for a special dinner.
Day three might take our guests on a boat ride to Santa Cruz Islands for some shopping and a visit to the famous Charles Darwin Research Station or else to a snorkeling destination followed by a sunset boat ride and great photo opportunities at Kicker Rock before returning to the hotel.
Your website (http://galapagosecofriendly.net/) mentions that you “follow the principles of The International Ecotourism Society”. Can you describe why you think this is important for an ecolodge?
I’m often asked to explain the concept of “ecotourism.” Fortunately, I can turn to two sources to define the concept of ecotourism, The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) and the World Conservation Union (IUCN). TIES calls it, “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people.” The IUCN broadens this definition by adding, “environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and accompanying cultural features, both past and present) that promote conservation, have a low visitor impact and provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples.”
You can’t be a legitimate ecotourism destination without having a deep and abiding commitment to these principles. We travel in order to expand our horizons, to improve the world we share, and to enhance and advance our lives and the lives of those around us. As part of my commitment to this important part of ecotourism, I share our experiences and culture and, in the process, help my guests form their own memories and mutual understandings. In this way, we gain a better perception and comprehension of the world we share, thereby learning to accept our differences. Coming to Galapagos is a personal journey and here we help each person make the most of that journey.
Next, tell me a bit about yourself and the staff you have working with you.
I have held my naturalist certification from the National Park Services and have worked as a Naturalist Guide for nearly 20 years. I continue to work as a naturalist for the most highly regarded, as well as ecologically aware and committed, companies in the Galápagos Islands; they are leaders on the application of conservation ideas, such as recycling, teaching, and planning the use of clean energy to reduce the impact in nature. My education includes concentrations in oceanography, marine biology, natural history and species development and survival. I am bilingual in Spanish and English.
We have a great staff, of course, but most important is my wife Lucrecia, because she’s the real backbone of the operation. We’re a team but when I’m away, she’s responsible for and does it all. Not only that, her breakfasts have become legendary!
You’ve maintained a blog on your site since 2011, and now have over 100 postings. That requires a lot of effort. What keeps you motivated to keep updating your blog for the visitors to your ecolodge as well as the visitors to your website?
The blog is a labor of love. If I had more time I would write even more. For one thing, new things happen in Galapagos all the time. I see things I’ve never seen before. I’m asked new questions. There are new and expanded scientific discoveries. This year alone papers have been published on the way in which sperm whales have learned behaviors to communicate in communities and the fact that finches don’t take centuries or millennia, but as little as a decade, to make significant changes to their beaks and adapt to new environmental factors. I learn new things all the time. I want to share it all.
Plus, I’m excited to be starting a new publication on medium.com called Galapagos Nature Interpreter (https://medium.com/galapagos-nature-interpreter), in which I write about all things Galapagos – everything from what to pack and how to tip, to the latest scientific discoveries, detailed information about all the visitor sites, and the topography and geology of the islands.
If I were to ask one of your guests, a year after they stayed with you, what was their most memorable experience associated with Galapagos Eco Friendly, what do you think they would say?
What they say on TripAdvisor is a good gauge of how our visitors react – almost uniformly thrilled with their experience and taking home a lifetime of memories. I hope they would say that the service was great, their room and all accommodations and amenities were comfortable and even better than they expected, their experiences at all visitor sites were remarkable, unique and informative, that they have a new appreciation for the environment and the planet we live on and, finally, that they had the time of their lives.
The following are additional photos by Harry taken in the Galapagos.