At Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island, work has begun near Punta Carola, one of the most iconic beaches in the Galapagos.

Since the beginning of 2022, backhoe loaders have been installed, cacti that only grow on this island have been cut down, and part of the volcanic rock has been blown up in iguana and turtle nesting sites.

These works are aimed at widening the road, which will allow the launch of the hotel complex of the Hogalápagos group.

However, according to the organic law of the special Galapagos regime, the construction of tourist infrastructure on the islands must meet many requirements, which still continues to hinder the construction of the hotel.

In 2015, the municipality of San Cristobal decided to stop this hotel project and make the promenade from Playa Mann to Punta Carola – only 8 hectares – a protected tourist area and of scientific interest, even if it is private land.

Moratorium on hotel capacity

Six years later, Environment Minister Gustavo Manrique signed a moratorium on the islands’ carrying capacity. In the Galapagos Islands, the number of places is limited, and therefore the number of customers that tourist establishments can accept.

But the diggers and rubble present in the area have alerted people like Jenny Kihosaka, a marine ecologist and spokesman for the Municipal Assembly, a collective formed to preserve Punta Carola.

The disputed land is located on the edge of a national park that covers 97% of the archipelago’s surface. It is part of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the capital of the Galápagos province and the island’s second city.

Therefore, even though it is privately owned, building permits on this land fall under the jurisdiction of the municipality (and not the park). And it sends conflicting messages: Mayor Henry Cobos Zavala voted in favor of the hotel project in April 2022 and has avoided the topic ever since.

Over 130,000 tourists per year

Recent developments raise fears that Hogalapagos will achieve its goals. This will set a precedent and allow mass tourism to fill the gap. Then the face of tourism in the Galápagos may change radically: until 2021, there were 310 tourist sites that received more than 136,000 tourists a year.

And this has already been a problem: in the Galapagos, if tourism develops, basic services do not follow. Puerto Baquerizo has no sewerage or access to potable water.

According to Bitacora Ambiental, a blog that is following the project, and information from Jenny Kihozak, who had access to plans for the complex, the Hogalápagos project will include a main building consisting of modules, a second building, nine bungalows, a conference room. center, gym and spa. It is designed to accommodate mass tourism, as is already happening in Hawaii and Bali.

oneuh May, I arrived in San Cristobal two days before the World Cup of Surfing. That evening, several of the island’s associations organized a rally on the beach to mark a sporting event to express their opposition to the construction work that had begun a few months earlier in Punta Carola.

In the Galápagos, the sun shone as always, or almost always, and the atmosphere was as martial as it was joyful. Children ran along the beach, and families chatted next to representatives of various organizations.

“Zone of Lawlessness”

Jenny Kihosaka took care of the rally and operated the loudspeaker, accompanied by her young son. On the sand, local activists lined up to mimic the movement of a wave around a beach, while several surfers circled the water and were filmed by a drone buzzing over their heads.

This meeting is one of many actions organized by the Municipal Assembly to demand more transparency on this project and to enforce the law.

Ratification remains the main issue. And everyone I met at the rally told me the same thing. “San Cristobal is a lawless area” says Jenny Kihosaka, sitting at a table in the shade near Playa Mann.

Among the islanders, environmental activists and locals, the problems go beyond mass tourism. Vinicio Andrade, president of the San Cristobal Hoteliers Association, was very clear about this. “In the short term, of course, we agree he told me, referring to the income that this new influx of tourists could bring them. But everything is done wrong and through and through. And add emphatically :

“We are not against development, but we must respect the space allocated to it in society.”

The idea of ​​turning the Galapagos Islands, humanity’s natural heritage, into a destination for mass tourism is not new. But this project requires research, debate and public consultation, which has not yet been.

On the terrace of a hotel opposite the Puerto Baquerizo Pier, Jacqueline Vazquez, who has lived in the Galápagos for fifty years, tells me that she is afraid to see San Cristobal change radically, unable to do anything against the hotel chain. . I remind them that nothing has been done yet. “But you must see the facts, Jenny Kihosaka answers. We would like to be warned.” In San Cristobal, everyone stays alert.