Health & Safety

As parents ourselves, we know how important it is for our children's development to give them the opportunity for some independent exploration and to make their own discoveries.  We also know that we should keep an eye on them, ensuring they are not exposed to undue risks.   Finally, we are aware that some parents may consider a trip to the Galapagos as a "bit of a stretch" beyond their usual family holiday comfort zones.  This page was designed to address any concerns you may have in that regard. 

South America / Ecuador / Galapagos

Ecuador is among the smallest of South American countries.   Ecuadorians tend to be a gentle, respectful, social, and family-oriented people.  Over its fascinating history, and even in the past 15 years, the country has witnessed its share of popular protests and political intrigues.  But these events are invariably focused on internal politics, and visitors have never been targeted. 

The islands are remarkably benign.  I raised my first (Quito born) boy there until he was nearly 3 years old.  He did his first cruise "in utero" and his second when he was 8 months old.  We've since taken our boys on 2 further cruises, when they were 7 and 10, and again when they were 10 and 13.  With only a beginner's Spanish, my soon to be 16 year old is going his own in the summer of 2015 for a few weeks, helping with chores aboard one of the cruise ships there.  All this to say that the risks are likely no greater there than on a similar trip to the Florida Keys, for example.  


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Sea Sickness

A very common concern expressed to me from prospective guests relates to seasickness.  On ships, you will be exposed to varying degrees of rocking motion - and many people are uncertain about if and how this might affect them.  

To get a better idea on the extent to which this is a real problem, we have been surveying people having recently disembarked from our trips.  We have asked them, on a scale of 1 to 5, the extent to which seasickness prevented them from enjoying their cruise, with 1 being “not at all” and 5 being "it ruined my trip". The average answer so far is 1.7 – which leads us to suggest that you should not be overly concerned about it.  

However, to be sure, various methods are available to reduce the risk of seasickness – from the patch worn behind the ear (see photo), to pills, to others.   

Search the web for “preventing or dealing with seasickness” and you’ll find plenty of good advice for adults and children.


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La Tourista / Montezuma’s revenge

La Tourista / Montezuma’s revenge (in Ecuador, “Atahualpa’s” revenge):  Contracted by eating food prepared in unsanitary environments, this common tourist ailment is very rare on ships, particularly if one avoids the 5 or 6 “bargain basement” ships in the islands.  The greatest risk of contracting it is in cheap restaurants on the mainland.   Still, in the overwhelming majority of cases, this passing ailment usually …  passes… within 24 hours or so and symptoms can be managed with common over the counter products.  You may want to carry out an internet search, or consult a doctor or pharmacist, for a few symptom-calming products in the off chance one of you might be afflicted. 


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Children on Ships

To many parents (myself included!), children running loose on ships can be a cause for anxiety.  Rest assured.  Ships are designed in such a way as to make it difficult for children to get into any serious trouble (unless your daring child is really set on climbing over guardrails and hanging off the bowsprit!).  

When you first board the ship, explore its various decks, nooks and crannies with your children.  Together, try to spot possible hazard areas.  Imagine what it would be like negotiating corridors, or steep stairs if the ship were underway and rocking.  Discuss with them what kinds of risks there may be, and what should be done to manage them. 

Encourage them to hold onto railings when using stairs, even if they don’t feel there is any risk.  Tell them that a good sailor takes every precaution, even when it doesn’t appear necessary.  You should of course consider your children’s ages and personalities (e.g. daring vs obedient, good judgement vs judgement still in development…) and provide the corresponding level of supervision/guidance.  

Captains are required to carry out a safety drill a the outset of all cruises. 


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Tropical diseases

Unless you are planning on going native on the mainland and if you take basic precautions, the risk of contracting anything that would get your physician looking at you askance is small in Ecuador, more so in the highlands where one of the most important vectors of disease, the mosquito, doesn’t do well.   Otherwise, if you do plan on heading out to the jungles and rural areas on the mainland, then you should do a little more homework.    We lived in Ecuador for 4 years without any major incident (though we did get our usual vaccines before going).  The islands themselves are amazingly benign – more so for visitors who don’t frequent the mom & pop restaurants over in the back end of town.   However, for the sake of due diligence, we must say that nothing is risk free.   We encourage you to consult tropical health professionals, or your government’s traveler’s health website for further information.   


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Sun and Heat

If you live in the snowy north, or contemplating this trip in the dark days of winter - you might be tempted to say "bring it on!  Make my day!".   But you have to recognize the effect of the tropical sun and the midday heat and give these the respect they deserve.  

You will be on the equator, and spending a good deal of time on-shore, by beaches or in the water.   Day time temperatures can be high, and the sun will likely shine most of the time.  Though adults and children are both at risk from sunburns and heatstroke, the young ones, being smaller, and with more sensitive skin, are more vulnerable - particularly for those coming to the islands from a winter climate.  

It all comes down to being prepared.  Long sleeved, light cotton clothing, sunscreen, a wide brimmed hat (kept on the head, preferably), sunglasses and plenty of water will do the trick.  Some people (not Prince Charles, but Lady Camilla yes) tote along an umbrella - a good idea - though it need not be so dainty.

If you plan on spending any time in Quito - be aware that at 2,800 metres (nearly 10,000 feet), you will be doubly exposed to the sun's powerful rays. 



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Access to medical treatment

All certified naturalist guides in Galapagos are trained in first aid. The larger, higher end ships may have a certified nurse or doctor on board.  The nearest hospital is in Puerto Ayora – but it can be up to 18 hours sailing time to get there if you happen to be at the furthest end of your itinerary.  This is a typical small town hospital - it can handle most minor to intermediary health concerns, but anything requiring complex interventions would need to be addressed on the continent, where modern medical care is readily available.   

The Galapagos National Park Service recently acquired a helicopter for its work, and it has been used, in extremes, for evacuating people in critical need of attention – though that is not its main function.  Finally, as there are 4-5 flights to the continent each day, there is always the option of being flown out for better care.   Every year, a handful of residents and visitors require specialized care on an emergency basis and are efficiently transported to the mainland on commercial flights - there is a well established routine. 



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