Carlos Espinosa-CDF

Sustainable Tourism

Active since 2023

While the Galapagos remains one of the best-managed destinations, with exponential visitor growth, tourism continues to impact this delicate ecosystem. We are studying how to make tourism in Galapagos more sustainable, in a way that reduces the impact on Galapagos’ fragile ecosystems while continuing to benefit the local community.

Carlos Espinosa

The challenge

The Galapagos Islands, a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site since 1978, is a premier tourism destination, especially for nature enthusiasts. Tourism on the islands have grown exponentially since the late 1960s, to more than 300,000 visitors in 2023.

A living laboratory for studying unique natural phenomena, the islands have been reshaped by population growth, in addition to tourism, which has grown by 7% annually over the past 10 years, making it a hub of cultural, economic, and ecological significance for Ecuador.

In this new context, the Galapagos Islands serve as a case study for exploring critical issues such as tourism sustainability and its intricate connection with food systems, waste production, energy demand, unplanned urban development, water security, as well as socio-environmental conflicts between resident and tourist populations, and between protected and non-protected areas. The unforeseen impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have further highlighted the consequences of the islands' strong reliance on tourism, and its impact on nature when this sector ground to a halt for almost a year.

Joshua Vela
Carlos Espinosa-CDF

What We Do

Our work consists of working with multiple stakeholder groups in Galapagos to gain a comprehensive understanding of the island's tourism dynamics both pre- and post-COVID-19, and to explore strategies to promote more sustainable tourism.

Currently, we are developing research initiatives related to the social and ecological tourism carrying capacity in Santa Cruz Island, the most populous island in the archipelago.

Recognizing the limitations of conventional tourism assessment tools, we are actively exploring and developing new frameworks to evaluate and improve the sustainability of tourism in Galapagos. This includes innovative approaches that capture the social, cultural, and ecological dimensions of tourism, thereby ensuring a more holistic understanding of its impact.

Our researchers are also part of the Policy Advisory Group for Galapagos (GAP), a group of organizations and experts that work together to develop new alternatives and strategies for the Galapagos Islands. This group is currently facilitating discussions, and providing evidence that support and help enhance control of the protected area by the Galapagos National Park Directorate and related authorities in order to curb the negative effects of the growing influx of tourists to Galapagos.

Program Objectives

This interdisciplinary and collaborative research program investigates the complex relationship between sustainable tourism practices in the Galapagos Islands and the well-being of both human and natural systems. Utilizing robust empirical methods and drawing insights from diverse disciplines, we aim to generate actionable knowledge that informs evidence-based conservation strategies while promoting the long-term well-being of Galapagos communities and ecosystems.

  • Develop participatory indicators for assessing tourism sustainability in Galapagos, including the profile of visitors.
  • Determine local community perception of the value of different ecosystem services in protected areas, such as tourism and urban development.
  • Create a strong framework for assessing the role of tourism in the local economy, with a focus on making it more sustainable and informing the decisions of all stakeholders.
  • Work with stakeholders from different sectors to define a preliminary agenda for tourism-related research with the aim of making it more sustainable and leverage support resources such as the Tourism Observatory to achieve this goal.

Why It Matters

Galapagos is a unique and fragile ecosystem that is home to a vast array of endemic species. While tourism is a vital part of the local economy and supports a multitude of conservation initiatives, it can also have negative impacts on the environment if mass tourism-oriented activities continue to be promoted.

In recent years, there has been a surge in the number of land-based tourists visiting Galapagos, particularly since COVID-19. This has raised concerns about the impact of tourism on the islands' delicate ecosystems and the sustainability of a tourism-dependent economy within the islands.

Sustainable tourism represents a way to manage tourism so that it minimizes negative impact on the environment while benefiting local communities. It is about finding a balance between economic development and environmental protection.

Rashid Cruz-CDF

Collaborating for Sustainability

In 2020, the Charles Darwin Foundation Fellowship for Sustainability Research was created to invite high-level academics of various disciplines throughout the world to develop innovative research projects for addressing sustainability issues in the Galapagos Islands. This initiative attracted three talented professionals from diverse fields: land-bird conservation in agricultural landscapes, marine conservation and productive sectors, and cultural aspects of Galapagos tourism.

One of these fellows was Dr. Carter Hunt, Associate Professor at Penn State University, whose research outlined an effort to adapt the globally recognized Drawdown solutions specifically to the Galapagos context. Carter cooperates closely with CDF's Sustainable Tourism Program as a collaborating scientist, by leading multiple initiatives focused on cultural differences that underpin sustainability challenges, e-waste production and management, and sustainable tourism practices in the Galapagos Islands.

Joshua Vela

Why You Should Support Us

Tourism is a major source of income for many people in Galapagos, yet ironically also one of its major threats. Recognizing and protecting the intrinsic value of nature can help to raise awareness about the urgent need for a more sustainable and resilient approach to tourism in Galapagos.

By supporting our Sustainable Tourism program, you can help to ensure that local communities continue to benefit from tourism in a sustainable manner, while also protecting one of our world’s most important natural treasures.


Muñoz-Barriga, A. y Pinos Jarrín, N. 2023. Impactos generados por el Covid-19 en los Guías turísticos de las Islas Galápagos, Ecuador. Dimensiones Turísticas. Vol. 7, e714689. https://doi.org/10.47557/KHPU468

Moya, P. y Muñoz-Barriga, A. 2022. Residentes, conservación, desarrollo y turismo en Galápagos. Revista de Geografía Norte Grande. Vol. 83. https://revistanortegrande.uc.cl/index.php/RGNG/article/view/21117

Torres, S. y Muñoz-Barriga, A. 2022. La Gestión sostenible del sector hotelero en Galápagos. Turismo y Sociedad. Vol 31:177-197. https://doi.org/10.18601/01207555.n31.10

Muñoz-Barriga, A. 2021. Apuntes sobre Galápagos y la mercantilización de la naturaleza en un contexto global. En: Dini, F., Martellozzo, F., Randelli, F y P. Romei (Ed.), Oltre la globalizzazione – Feedback, Società di Studi Geografici. Memorie geografiche NS 19, pp. 293-299. ISBN: 9788890892684

Muñoz-Barriga, A. 2020. Persistencias, desigualdades y vulnerabilidades en el paraíso, Galápagos. Revista de Geografía Espacios. Volumen 10 (20): 1-14 https://doi.org/10.25074/07197209.20.1874

Andres Cruz

Protect Galapagos, Impact the World

The impact you make on this small ecosystem of enormous biodiversity is part of a larger footprint you are leaving for the world's future. Join us on our mission to safeguard one of our planet’s most important natural treasures through science and conservation action by making a donation today. Thank you for making an impact with us.