7 Fun Facts About Galapagos Naturalist Guides

Galapagos National Park, Planning Your Trip

Your naturalist guide will have a huge impact on the quality of your experience in the Galapagos. You are required to be accompanied by an accredited Galapagos naturalist guide when visiting the majority of the sites in the Galapagos.

In other words, your guide becomes your best friend for the duration of the tour.


About Our Galapagos Naturalist Guide

Manolo was our naturalist guide in the Galapagos. Manolo lives in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz island. He had previously worked as a SCUBA diving instructor, but found the work exhausting – being constantly in the water, hauling oxygen tanks day in and day out.

Manolo impressed us with his command of English and Spanish, knowledge of the Galapagos, and uncanny ability to spot Galapagos turtles hours before anyone else.

Manolo went above and beyond his normal duties. He showed us the coolest bar in Isabela “Iguana Point.”  He even took excellent pictures of my family using my big camera since I didn’t bring a tripod and I wanted to be in the shots. He taught us tons of stories and facts about the history of the island, the unique animals and plants there, and the residents of the Galapagos.

He also gave me a fascinating glimpse into the life and the business of Galapagos tour guides and responded with patience to my never-ending barrage of Q&A.

Why Your Guide Makes all the Difference

When you book an organized tour, you will typically be with the same guide the entire time. (If you book day tours, you will change guides every day). You want someone who is knowledgeable and with a sharp eye. I personally think enthusiasm is the most important factor.


Imagine someone leading you along the path and naming the animals that are in plain view in monotone.

Then imagine someone who is almost as excited as you to find a hard-to-spot finch, telling you the most fascinating facts about marine lizards, or passionately explaining the conservation challenges facing the island.

There is no way to guarantee that you will “click” personality-wise with your naturalist guide, but the best way to ensure you get an excellent guide is to go with an excellent tour company.

7 Fun Facts About Naturalist Guides

  1. Who do naturalist guides work for? Galapagos naturalist guides are independent. That is, more than one tour company may hire the same naturalist guide, depending on his or her availability. The naturalist guide sets their own rates and schedule.
  2. How do naturalist guides find work? The business is word-of-mouth, with the higher-end tourism companies hiring the best tour guides. If the naturalist guides a company usually works with are not available, they will ask for a recommendation from other tourism company managers. If the guide does well, he may be hired again.
  3. Where do they stay? Working conditions between companies vary greatly. On some cruises, four naturalist guides share a room with four bunk beds. With other companies, they are more comfortable because they each have their own room.
  4. What determines the “level” of the naturalist guide? The level system classifies tour guides into tour guide I, II or III, depending on years of experience and number of languages spoken. Most speak English and Spanish. A few speak French, Italian, German or other languages.
  5. What’s the hardest thing about being a naturalist guide? Naturalist guides are the face of the National Park Service, but employed by tourism companies. As the face of the National Park Service, their role is to protect the Galapagos islands and its animals, and to enforce the park rules, in particular, not to touch or disturb the animals. However, in their role as employee of a tourism company, their job is to make the customer happy. Conflict of interest occurs when an uneducated tourist asks for a “favor” to bend the rules and take a picture of him sitting on the giant tortoise. Don’t be that guy.
  6. Doesn’t it get boring doing the same things over and over? Manolo mentioned that the great thing about guiding is that he is visiting different sites all the time. This day we happened to be hiking the Sierra Negra Volcano, but he had not been there in a couple weeks. He said he entertained himself by counting the animals and trying each time to see more than the last.
  7. Can I become a naturalist guide? Sadly no. Or at least, it would be very difficult. Only Galapagos residents can become naturalist guides, and only people who are born in the Galapagos or have direct family who are residents may become a Galapagos resident.

My dad and Manolo. Note: A great guide also puts up amateur hack photographers (like me) who like the “jump in the air” pictures.

Have you had an awesome tour guide? What made them great?

Meet the Author

Lisa Cho is an expat living in Ecuador, originally from San Francisco, California. She writes about the Galapagos Islands on this site and about her mainland Ecuador adventures on CuencaCultureShock.com

3 comments… add one
  • Barbara Johnson Sep 11, 2014, 12:47 pm

    We are visiting the Galapagos in February. We are staying at a hotel on Santa Cruz. How do we arrange for a naturalist guide before we get there? We are bird watchers and there will be four of us. Thanks.

    • Lisa Cho Sep 12, 2014, 3:42 pm

      Hi Barbara,
      Are you planning on taking a tour with us? A naturalist guide is included on all tours.

  • Cina Jun 24, 2015, 10:10 pm

    I recently took a trip out to the Galapagos with you. My girlfriend and I did the Darwin Footprints tour, and it was AMAZING. I just wanted to say that our naturalists Giovanni and Santiago were incredible. I wish I had their contact information so I could thank them personally! Thanks for such a great experience.

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