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Community Tourism on Floreana Island

Floreana has been a day tour destination from Santa Cruz for years. The residents of Floreana call it “lightning tourism” because big tour groups “strike” the island for an instant and then are gone. While visitors may eat lunch at a restaurant in town, the residents see little of the profits. Floreana residents don’t want the large-scale development and numbers of tourists that visit the other ports. Puerto Ayora may not seem hectic to you, but if you compare its throngs of souvenir shops, luxury hotels, spas, and touts to Floreana’s sleepy dirt roads and population of 130, it might as well be New York City. The challenge has been to maintain the uniqueness of Floreana’s slow pace of life while creating economic opportunities for the locals.

trail through red flora that leads to green flora
Visitors stay on the island of Floreana to get away from it all and to experience Galápagos life at its slowest. Photo © Dmitry Saparov/iStock.

To that end, Floreana has worked with the national park and several conservation organizations to develop an entirely different model of tourism. The goal is to serve a limited number of tourists and ensure that the profits flow equitably into the community. Unlike Santa Cruz where multiple tour operators tout their services every time you walk down the street, Floreana has only one. The single community tourism operator CECFLOR (Centro Comunitario Floreana) directs the flow of group tours to hostels and restaurants and is the only company authorized to operate day tours to the beautiful Post Office Bay, Mirador de la Baronesa, and La Botella. As an independent traveler, consider yourself lucky; you can choose where to stay and eat. In contrast, when large tour groups arrive, people are assigned to stay in community-run guest houses and eat in community-run restaurants on a rotation schedule. A percentage of the proceeds goes back to CECFLOR for its operating costs, to support the local school and other projects to benefit the community.

A key difference you may notice is that all of CECFLOR’s tours are run by local community guides. There are no naturalist guides living on Floreana, so the national park has authorized CECFLOR to send tourists to protected areas with locals instead. Unlike naturalist guides, community guides are locals who have other jobs outside of tourism; these tours are a source of extra income. Their English may be quite limited and they don’t have the training that naturalist guides go through, but they do know the sites well and can point out animal species to you.

As an outsider, it may seem unfair that you aren’t allowed to walk on your own to Post Office Bay and Mirador de la Baronesa, but Floreana residents can go alone. Keep in mind, however, that many residents of Floreana are older; they lived on the island before the national park came into existence in 1959. For years the national park only allowed visits with a naturalist guide, but since no naturalist guides live on Floreana, it effectively prevented anyone from going unless they were on cruise ships. Under the new rules, residents can finally return to their favorite childhood haunts.

people gathered around a barrel looking through mail
Whalers used to hand-deliver mail from a post office barrel on Floreana, a tradition that tourists carry on today. Photo © Lisa Cho.

Floreana’s Community Tourism Guesthouses

Floreana has seven mom-and-pop guesthouses that are affiliated with the community tourism project. These houses currently offer the same price of $35 per person, though there is a surprising variation in quality and amenities. The following list is ordered roughly in order of quality, best options first. Unless noted, these guesthouses do not include breakfast or air-conditioning. Note that there are plans to continue investing in renovating the guesthouses; prices may potentially increase.

None of these guesthouses use online booking platforms; make your reservation through the direct emails provided below or through CECFLOR with a special request for the guesthouse of your choice.

Casa Santa Maria (Ignacio Hernández, tel. 5/253-5022, malourdes.soria@hotmail.com, $35 pp), run by the seasoned owners of the Floreana Lava Lodge, boasts six relatively modern rooms with mini-fridge, safe-deposit box, and hot water; it’s a block inland. Ask for a room on the third floor.

Casa de Emperatriz (12 de Febrero, tel. 5/253-5014, orquideasalgado@hotmail.com, $35 pp) has three rather dingy rooms a couple blocks inland by the main road, but it is the only budget option on the island with air-conditioning. Some rooms also have mini-fridges.

Casa de Lelia (Ignacio Hernández and Oswaldo Rosero, tel. 5/253-5041, leliaflorimarc8@gmail.com, $35 pp), a block inland, has pleasant rooms with remodeled bathrooms, hammocks, and hot water; some rooms have mini-fridges.

Los Cactus (Oswaldo and La Baronesa, tel. 5/253-5011, loscactus.gps@gmail.com, $35 pp), is slightly inland near the dock. There are four basic, modern-style guest rooms; the two on the second floor have limited views of the bay. There is a kitchen that guests are sometimes allowed to use, but it’s best to ask.

Casa El Pajas (Wittmer at Zavala, tel. 5/253-5002, hospedaje.elpajas@gmail.com, $35 pp) has an attractive tiki-style log cabin vibe but is located a little farther inland than the other options. There is also a breezy second-floor sitting area and a couple hammocks.

Cabañas Leocarpus (12 de Febrero, tel. 5/253-5054, veritoemi2006@gmail.com, $35 pp) on the main street has a similar rustic vibe. The guest rooms on the second floor have a very distant view to the sea. Each has one double bed and one single bed.

Casa de Huéspedes Hildita (12 de Febrero and Juan Salgado, tel. 5/253-5079, $35 pp) has five guest rooms built around an empty gravel courtyard. Be aware, however, that while water is a precious resource on the entire island, this hostal has the strictest water usage policy.


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