The Galapagos Islands are a World Heritage Site and a National Park. The government requires most of the tours to various locations on and around the Islands to be led by a Naturalist Guide.
The Naturist Guides help visitors understand why the Galapagos Islands are so unique and why conservation and preservation is so important. They also share knowledge about the flora and fauna, history, and geography of the Islands.
One of the political differences that makes the Galapagos Islands unique from the rest of Ecuador are the strict residency laws. “Mainlanders” are not allowed to move to the islands without family connections or marriage to a resident. An approved business that creates employment for local residents can give the owner/manager the legal right to live in the islands. Naturalist Guides are also required to be either a resident, or married to a resident of the Galapagos. These Guides are independent contractors, setting their own rates and schedules.
The Naturalist Guides have to take a course and be accredited before they are able to guide tours. There are three classes (Class I, Class II and Class III) of training. Guides can be hired from any one of the three levels. Their knowledge of the Galapagos, and language ability (number/fluency of languages spoken) increases with each level, with Class III being the most accomplished. Most speak Spanish and English, while others are fluent in 3 or 4 languages.
The Guides we met while visiting Galapagos were very nice, and spoke excellent English. One of the guides we met used to be involved in a dangerous type of fishing, but now because of the guide program he enjoys a safe and well paying job. By talking on a personal level with the guides we were able to get an idea about some of the cultural aspects of the Islands. They were happy to chat with us, and answer all of our questions.
Before heading out to explore a specific site, be sure to confirm if you will need to hire a Naturalist Guide. You can check the requirements of the various locations. If you are traveling with a provider that arranges the tours for you, they will take care of this on your behalf.