Essentials for a Galapagos Cruise

You have finally booked your trip to the Galapagos. That exciting bucket list destination awaits with stunning scenery, unique wildlife, and incredible photo opps at every turn. As the departure date nears, you might wonder what to bring. The following are a few essential items for any cruise in the Galapagos:

  • Sunblock: Just a reminder to bring enough sunblock because you will need it while hiking on unique islands with tropical dry forest and arid, volcanic landscapes. Even if you don’t go on those hikes, you will still need sunblock when visiting beautiful, quiet beaches, during zodiac excursions, while paddle-boarding, and doing other exciting activities during the cruise.

    Approaching Bartolome in the Galapagos Islands.

  • An underwater camera: Or, at least waterproof housing for your camera. Although there’s plenty to see on land and above the waves, there’s even more life below the surface of the water. Rays, sharks, seals, and colorful reef fish are some of the marine creatures regularly seen when snorkeling or taking a dive tour in the Galapagos.

    Marine Iguana

  • Extra memory cards and camera batteries: If you bring one extra memory card on a typical vacation, bring two or three more cards for a trip to the Galapagos. Most of the wildlife in the Galapagos is tame and begging to be photographed, the scenery is fantastic, and you don’t want to skimp on photos of the most memorable of family vacations. It’s a good idea to also be prepared with extra batteries.

Learn more about comfortable cruises and diving tours to the Galapagos at Destination Ecuador.

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The Arenillas Ecological Reserve

The Arenillas Ecological Reserve, located on Ecuador’s southern border with Peru, is a recent creation and a fascinating place for those interested in wildlife; as yet it is virtually unknown to tourists. While the area has always been of great interest to biologists, tourism was only made possible after the frontier dispute with Peru was settled in 1995, and in 2001 the area was included in the list of protected areas as part of the plan to conserve areas of high biodiversity and scenic beauty.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the Arenillas Ecological Reserve is that it contains one of the largest areas of dry forest in Ecuador. The region includes almost desert-like areas, characterized by huge cacti which grow up to twenty feet (6m) in height, while on the coastal areas 30 meter high mangroves can be found, with their own unique fresh and saltwater ecosystem.

The Reserve is also significant for the one hundred and fifty three bird species that live here. Other areas have larger numbers, but the interesting aspect of Arenillas is the unusually high level of birds that can be found nowhere else. Of the total of 153, some 55 are unique to the dry forests of Ecuador and Peru, and the Arenillas Reserve is vital for their survival. Some of the most spectacular birds that can be seen here include the colorful the red-masked parakeet, the bronze-winged parrot, and the Pacific royal flycatcher with its unusual umbrella-shaped red crest. The coastal areas are also not lacking in bird life, here the tourist can find abundant pelicans, cormorants and herons.

The Arenillas Reserve is also home to an estimated 60 to 80 species of mammals. Four of these, including a species of anteater, are considered threatened. Some of the exotic species the visitor may encounter include spiny rats; vampire bats; yaguarundis – a small species of puma; and tayras. These giant weasels can grow up to a three feet long including the tail, and have been given the nickname “Cabeza de Viejo” – “Old Man´s Face”, thanks to their wrinkled features. They are playful and can be tamed.

How to get here:

The Reserve can be reached by following the Panamerican Highway, the E50, Between Machala the capital of the province of El Oro, the city of Arenillas, and Huaquillas, located on the border with Perú. Those wishing to enter the Reserve must request permission from the Ministry of Defense of the province of El Oro (Brigada de Infantería N°1 El Oro), as the area is currently protected by the Military.

Highlights:

Bird-watching in the forests and along the coast, the mangroves and the giant cacti.

Climate:

The climate is hot and dry, with an average year-round temperature above 24°C.

What to bring:
Insect repellent (minimum 30% DEET).
Sun screen.
Hat.
Sunglasses.
Light, protective clothing (long sleeved shirt and long trousers).
Rain poncho or light, waterproof jacket during the rainy season.
Rubber boots.
Plenty of drinking water.

The area by numbers:

• 17,083: The size, in hectares, of the Reserve.
• 60-80: The estimated number of mammal species in the Reserve.
• 35: Percentage of bird species found here which are endemic to coastal dry forests.
• 24: Minimum year-round temperature, in °C.
• 5: The number of mangrove species found along the coast and rivers of the Reserve.

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Take the Train in Ecuador!

Ecuador is an incredible country of contrasts. During a two week trip to Ecuador, you can experience the majestic rainforests of the Amazon basin, stroll the quaint colonial streets of Cuenca, hike near a glacier in the high Andes, and snorkel with sea turtles and Sea Lions in the Galapagos Islands.

With more time, you could also browse the native markets of Otavalo, see a stunning hummingbird display in the cloud forests of Mindo, and relax on a quiet beach. Folks who happen to be train buffs are also in luck because Ecuador has a beautiful, comfortable train and the ride is unforgettable. Passengers on a train tour in Ecuadorare treated to stunning high Andean mountain scenery in luxurious cars with big picture windows.

A view from the train.

As the train travels through the Avenue of the Volcanoes, it passes by picturesque mountain villages and haciendas with craggy mountains in the background (some topped with snow).

Enjoying the train in Ecuador.

Passengers also enjoy activities off the train. At one of the stops, they can go for a hike in the high elevation habitats of Cotopaxi Volcano. At another, guests accompany a traditional “ice seller” who acquires his wares directly from the glacier at Chimborazo! A big, indigenous market is also visited and train passengers experience the feat of railroad engineering known as the Devil’s Nose, an amazing descent down a very steep incline. Add cozy lodging in quaint hotels and delicious Ecuadorian meals to the mix and the train tour becomes one of the most memorable experiences on any trip to Ecuador.

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The Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve

This is one of the easiest to reach of all Ecuador’s protected areas. At just 50 km from the capital Quito, the Cayambe Coca Reserve is well served by tourist infrastructure and is a favourite with visitors anxious to sample its many attractions: the paramos and hot springs, the wildlife and the area’s multitude of pristine lakes.

With altitudes ranging from a tropical 600 metres to Ecuador’s third highest point, the permanently snow capped Mt. Cayambe volcano at 5,790 meters, the Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve is home to an incredible variety of landscapes. The Reserve protects one of the country’s principal sources of water, and is criss-crossed by rivers, streams, rapids, hot and cold volcanic springs, and endless waterfalls gushing down the green Andean slopes towards the Amazon basin in the East and the Pacific in the West.

The Reserve is also for climbers. Mount Cayambe (5,790m), located in the west of the Reserve, is the country’s third highest peak and experienced climbers can get to this summit from the Los Hermanos Carrel Refuge (4,600m). Several Condor nesting sites have been identified in the surrounding area. As its name suggests, the Cujuya climbing park is also for those interested in the sport. Located in Cuyuja, near Papallacta, the rock in the park has excellent characteristics for scaling.

Two indigenous people live in the reserve. The indigenous Kichwa speaking village of Oyacachi, located in west of the Reserve, is famed for its woodworking skills and crafts. The community, recently launched a community tourism project, which features visits and exchanges with local families, the opportunity to relax in the villages hot springs, and enjoy locally produced trout and dairy products.

The Cofán people live in the park’s lowlands. The Cofán are a traditional Amazonian culture whose origins lie in the area of the San Miguel and Aguarico river basins, close to the border with Colombia. Their language is unique. They have kept their traditional life style of subsistence hunting and farming, and place great emphasis on living in harmony with their lush surroundings. Sinangoe, located in Canton Gonzalo Pizarro, Puerto Libre Parrish, is the region’s largest and most accessible Cofàn community. The community is involved in environmental protection and eco tourism.

Amongst the 106 species of mammal which inhabit the diverse landscapes of the Reserve, are spectacled bears, puma, little pudu deer and Andean foxes. Three hundred and ninety five species of bird have also been identified in the park, although, as many of the mountain areas remain unexplored, the total number could be higher. Many species, such as the majestic condor, whose wingspan can reach almost 3 meters, are threatened, and the preservation of this region is vital for its protection.

Highlights:

Oyacachi, located high in the mountains at 3,100 meters.

Papallacta, located just outside the southern border of the park, on the Quito Baeza road, is surrounded by some 60 lakes. It also has an abundance of hot springs, originating in the Antisana Volcano, which can be enjoyed after taking one of the many hikes into the Reserve to see waterfalls, birds and other local wildlife.

The San Rafael Waterfall fed by the Quijos river, is Ecuador’s highest, at 150 metres. There are also three smaller falls and small rapids.
At the base of the active El Reventador volcano it is possible to see signs of recent lava flows, and this is a great place for hiking.

This Reserve is renowned for its bird-watching opportunities, with almost 400 species identified in the area. Many hikes – both guided and unguided – begin in El Chaco, Papallacta and Oyacachi.
The two- to three-day hike from Oyacachi to El Chaco passes through some of the most remote regions of the Reserve. The trail descends a total of around 1,400 metres, passing through a range of landscapes, with opportunities to see spectacled bears, Andean foxes and many different types of birds.

Climate:
Depending on the altitude, the average annual temperature in the reserve can range from 5 to 25 °C. This area is wet and humid, and bright sunlight in the mountains can quickly give way to heavy downpours.

What to bring:

Warm clothes.
Hiking boots.
Rubber boots.
Sun block.
Binoculars for bird watching.
Waterproof jacket.
Hat.
Drinking water and snacks if attempting a long hike.

How to get here:

There are several point of access to the Cayambe-Coca reserve, mostly on the Amazon side of the Reserve.

The road from Papallacta to Baeza and Lago Agrio (Nueva Loja) borders the easily accessed southern and eastern edges of the reserve, and the most common points of entry along this road are from Papallacta, El Chaco and Lumbaqui, 70km west of Lago Agrio.

If you don’t have your own transport, take the bus from Quito’s northern terminal (La Ofelia) to Cayambe where a pick up can be hired. The journey to Oyacachi from Cayambe costs around $20 one way for the 90 minute journey, or $50 for a return journey, with three- to four-hours to spend in Oyacachi.

Local traditions and folklore:

The community of Oyacachi, perched high in the Andes, is famed for its exquisite woodwork. Visitors are invited to explore the craft shop, where each item is numbered according to the artist. Roughly-carved wooden bowls, giant ladles and shallow trays are the most traditional items, though the beautifully finished dishes, lidded pots and carved chopping boards demonstrate the true skill of the villagers. During the week, the community workshop is open for visitors to watch the artisans at work.

However, the most impressive and intricate example of the artisans’ talent, and of the remarkable community spirit, are the three totem poles on display in the main plaza. Native species such as spectacled bears, sloth, birds and flowers emerge from the twisted trunks of the native Quijuar tree.

The area by numbers:
• 395: The number of identified bird species, though this number is expected to be higher.
• 150: The height, in meters, of the San Rafael waterfall – Ecuador´s highest.
• 100: The number of plant species endemic to this region.
• 35-64: The temperature, in °C, of the natural hot springs in the Reserve.

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Five Perfect Reasons for Taking a Dive Tour in the Galapagos Islands

There are bucket list destinations throughout the globe but the Galapagos Islands stand out as one of the top, must-see sites in the western hemisphere. The exciting mix of unique wildlife, volcanic scenery, beautiful beaches, and historical significance make every trip to the Galapagos an unforgettable adventure. However, although you can snorkel, paddle board, and see plenty of fantastic wildlife on a Galapagos cruise, the adventure reaches even higher levels when you sign up for a dive tour. These are five reasons for adding on a dive tour to your Galapagos vacation:

  1. The waters of the Galapagos are teeming with life: If you thought there were a lot of unique animals on land, just wait until you dive beneath the waves.

    Watching a school of fish in the Galapagos Islands.

  2. Lots of tame wildlife: Don’t be surprised to get close looks at Sea Lions, Sea Turtles, and sharks. This is the norm in the waters of the Galapagos.
  3. A variety of dives: Underwater adventures range from easy-going dives to challenging excursions to such world renowned sites as Gordon Rocks.

    Hammerhead Sharks are often seen at Gordon Rocks.

  4. Enhance your cruise to the Galapagos: A dive tour is the perfect way to complete a cruise to the Galapagos. After getting a glimpse of marine wildlife while snorkeling and from the boat, Scuba dives top the trip off with an incredible, in-depth experience.
  5. A professional company with years of experience: We only work with fully certified and licensed dive guides from the most experienced dive company in the Galapagos.

Prepare to be amazed on your trip to the Galapagos islands!

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Cofán-Bermejo Ecological Reserve

The Cofán, who call themselves the A’I, are an age old culture whose home is the forest of north-eastern Ecuador. Around 1,000 Cofanes live in the country, as well as in the south of Colombia; they are divided by the San Miguel River. In Ecuador their territory has been greatly reduced over time, particularly since oil was found in the area in 1967.

In spite of everything, the Cofán have been able to resist intense cultural pressure. They have managed to keep alive many of their traditional beliefs and rituals, such as Shamanism and the yagé, or ayahuasca ceremonies (see below), which allows them to contact their ancestors.

These unassuming people are also well known for their crafts and any visitor to a Cofán community will undoubtedly be impressed by the high level of skill found in their work. For the traveler, time spent in the Cofán Bermejo Reserve is a fascinating way to both get to know the local people and their customs, and at the same time to help sustain a unique, and threatened, Amazon forest culture.

The Cofán-Bermejo Reserve forms part of the traditional territory of the Cofán and is managed in cooperation with the local population; it is the only one of its kind in Ecuador. With an altitude ranging from 400 to 2,750m above sea level, the area is a fascinating mix of landscapes, from the cloud forests of the eastern Andes, to the 40 meter high canopies of lowland rainforest trees. Some lowland trees have even been recorded at 50 meters high and one meter in diameter, making them the biggest of their kind in the world.

The lower plains also contain flooded forests, which can remain under several meters of water for many days., while the Bermejo River area in the South of the park is a good place to gwet an idea of the area’s landscapes: Mt Sur Pax to the north, and the volcanoes Reventador and Sumaco to the south, as well as the ever present Amazon rainforest.

Three hundred and ninety nine species of bird have been registered in the Reserve, in above all in the proximity of the Bermejo River, making this one of the most important areas for birds in the Ecuadorian Amazon. There are also 42 mammals here, including mountain tapirs and giant armadillos, which grow to almost 90cm long on a diet consisting almost entirely of termites.

The community of Alto Bermejo, on the south bank of the Bermejo River, has a research station located in a small clearing surrounded by primary and secondary forest and a few community vegetable gardens. Around the community, dozens of trails criss-cross the forest, among them: the Ttonoe, which has large mature trees along the trail and leads to several waterfalls; and the Pozo Seco trail, whose demanding ascent will reward the visitor with impressive panoramas.

Highlights:

Taking a canoe ride through the flooded forests of the Ecuadorian Amazon Basin is a memorable experience – bringing you closer to the wildlife of this unique region. As well as the opportunities to observe birds and animals in their natural habitat, this region also hosts the fascinating Cofán culture, and a chance to visit a local community should not be missed.

Climate:

The climate varies according to the altitude.
At lower altitudes, the climate in the forest is hot and humid year-round, with the wetter season from February to June.

What to bring:

Insect repellent (minimum 30% DEET).
Light, protective clothing (long sleeved shirt and long trousers).
Rain poncho.
Rubber boots.
Flashlight.
Mosquito net.
Plastic bags to protect cameras and other equipment from the rain and high humidity.
Hat.
Sunglasses.
Drinking water and/or water purification tablets.

Anti-malarial tablets may be necessary depending on the time of year – mosquitoes are only common in the wet season. Seek medical advice before travelling to this region.
A yellow fever vaccination may also be required.

How to get here:

The only access route is the stretch of the Interoceanica highway from Lago Agrio (Nueva Loja) to Tulcán. In Cantón Cascales, an hour from Lago Agrio, a dirt track leads to the Shuar community of Taruka. From here, a six to eight hour hike takes you to the entrance of the Reserve.

It is necessary to travel with local Park Rangers, as Colombian guerrillas have been reported near the San Miguel and Bermejo rivers.

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Tips for Visiting the Otavalo Market on a Trip to Ecuador

Ecuador has a lot of highlights but a few sites and activities stand out as global bucket list destinations. One of those is the market at Otavalo. This famed indigenous market is probably one of the oldest markets in the Americas because Otavalo was known as a market town long before the Spanish arrived. In fact, local Otavalans were selling their wares for centuries even before the Incans showed up.

The Otavalo market.

The people of Otavalo continue to bargain with customers to this day and it’s an easy, fantastic place to visit. Here are a few tips to help enhance your time in Otavalo:

  • Take your time: There’s a lot to see in Otavalo so don’t be afraid to take your time. The Otavalo market is not a place for shoppers in a hurry!
  • Bring small bills: Although many of the vendors probably have change, it will be easier on them and your wallet if you have small bills.
  • Don’t be afraid to bargain!: People have been bargaining in Otavalo for centuries. The vendors are used to it and may be open to a discount if you buy several items. They will also happily sell that hat or woven Alpaca shawl for the asking price without a second word but it doesn’t hurt to ask for a lower price.
  • Ask before taking pictures: Another thing to always ask for is permission to take photos. Just ask before you bring out the camera.

We hope these tips help when visiting Otavalo, Ecuador!

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The Ilinizas Ecological Reserve

This is a reserve for climbers, and the two sharp peaks of the Ilinizas, according to legend once a single volcano split by an ancient eruption, are the main feature. Today these two peaks are a magnet for climbers from around the world.

The smaller North peak (5,116 m above sea level) is a suitable climb for inexperienced mountaineers and those wishing to acclimatize before attempting Ecuador’s major summits, while the ice-capped South peak (5,305 m) challenges even seasoned climbers. At the southern edge of the Reserve the visitor will find another major attraction, Lake Quilotoa, (3,400 meters) an emerald green lagoon set in a circular crater, with steep cliffs leading down to its shores.

The Ilinizas Reserve is also highly varied and its great variety of ecosystems, from cloud forests to evergreen forest and windswept moorland, means that here the visitor will find vast numbers of plants birds and animals. An estimated 292 species of plants are endemic to the Reserve, including many of the orchids which flourish at the higher altitudes (1,800 – 3,000m) of the reserve’s cloud forest, clinging to the trunks of trees together with bromeliads.
Large mammals are also common, from the more common white lipped and white collared peccary, Andean fox, opossums and agoutis – resembling large guinea-pigs – to the rarer pumas, and extremely endangered spectacled bears.

The 257 bird species found here so far include many species native to the cloud forests which are considered endangered on an international level, such as antpittas, wood quails and puffleg hummingbirds.

Highlights:

Climbing the Ilinizas is a memorable experience for both experienced and first-time climbers. Quilotoa Lake, set in its deep volcanic crater is an extraordinary landscape, visitors can hike round the crater´s rim, visit on mules or kayak across the turquoise waters. The cloud forests are excellent for bird-watching, and maybe even spotting some of the larger mammals.

The local “Tigua” paintings, named after one of the villages near to the Reserve. These intricate paintings are as colorful as the community’s clothes. They are painted onto stretched lambskin and depict scenes of everyday life, against a backdrop of dramatic Andean scenery, erupting volcanoes and emerald lakes. There are dancers, farmers, llamas and condors, mythical creatures and the ever-present Allpamama or Mother Earth.

Climate:

While the average annual temperature in the Reserve is between 9 and 11ºC, it can reach 21ºC at the height of a sunny day and at night go down to freezing. The visitor should remember that the higher you go, the colder it gets.

The Reserve is often cloudy and wet, and visitors should come prepared, with appropriate clothing and footwear.

What to bring:
Warm clothing.
Waterproof jacket.
Sun screen.
Walking shoes/boots.
Sunglasses
Hat.
Binoculars for bird-watching
A warm sleeping bag is also recommended, depending on the accommodation

How to get here:

The Ilinizas are located near the village of El Chaupi, which can be reached by taking the road to Sigchos west off the Panamerican Highway near the town of Machachi, to the south of the capital Quito. From El Chaupi, a 90 minute hike will take you to the refuge. This same road eventually leads to Sigchos, in the south of the Reserve, and allows visitors to reach El Corazón mountain.

An alternative route involves turning off the Panamerican Highway at the town of Lasso, south of Machachi. This road winds around the base of the Ilinizas.

To reach Lake Quilotoa, from Quito take the Panamerican highway to Latacunga (95km), and from there the road west towards Pujilí. The road passes the Kichwa communities of Tigua and Zumbahua before reaching Quilotoa, 4×4 vehicles are recommended.

Local traditions and folklore:

This Region is home to many Kichwa communities, who, for the most part, still cling to their traditional ways of life: farming llamas; cultivating traditional, hardy crops such as beans and corn; and speaking Kichwa, the language of the Incas. They continue to wear their vibrant, traditional clothes, with hand-embroidered blouses, necklaces of gold beads and bright shawls for the women, despite the harsh, wet climate.

The area by numbers:

• 5,305: The height, in meters, of Iliniza South, the Reserve´s highest point. Iliniza North stands at 5,116 meters.
• 4,788: The height, in meters, of Corazón Volcano, a relatively easy climb within the Reserve.
• 50: The number of mammal species found in the Reserve, although this number is expected to rise on further research.
• 40: The height, in meters, of the walls of the Toachi Canyon, formed after Quilotoa erupted. The canyon is ideal for hiking and horseback riding.

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Amazing Insects in the Ecuadorian Amazon

When most travelers hear the word “insects”, they usually think of ways to keep bugs from biting and how fast they can swat them. Although that might hold true for mosquitoes and other biting bugs, there are literally thousands of inoffensive insects that look downright incredible. Since many of them live in the biodiverse rainforests of eastern Ecuador, the jungles of the Ecuadorian Amazon are the perfect place for taking pictures of bizarre bugs, jewel-like beetles, fantastic butterflies, and much more.

A butterfly from eastern Ecuador.

Given that the rainforests of eastern Ecuador host an unknown number of insect species (estimates range from 10,000 to even 50,000), you could get shots of literally dozens of different exquisite bugs on every night hike.

A brilliant green beetle from the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Taking a guided night hike is the best way to find insects as well as frogs and other photogenic creatures because most of them come out at night. During the day, most insects stay hidden and out of sight to avoid being eaten by the large number of birds and othr predators hoping to eat them.

You won’t need to walk far from the lodge to see incredible insects either. A large number of species can show up right in the gardens of the lodge or in nearby forest. All it takes is a good headlamp, patience, and a camera with macro lens and flash for impressive shots of amazing bugs.

Visit the Huaorani Ecolodge and other exciting rainforest destinations in eastern Ecuador for excellent photos of insects, birds, frogs, and other jungle wildlife.

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First Community-based Tourism Initiative in the Galapagos

Tropic is proud to announce the first community-based tourism initiative in the Galapagos. This island’s 100 residents have never enjoyed tourism’s benefits. The goal is to protect the island’s resources and life style by guiding tourism as a tool while not letting tourism change the island’s character. Using the Huaorani Ecolodge experience we hope to build program, operational and organizational capacities with the local community to position Floreana Island as the ecotourism destination in the Galapagos. This would be a new sustainable tourism model to the world.

Jasci signs a memorandum of understanding with Floreana Community President Max Freire and Maria de Lourdes Soria president of the tourism committe

Waponi and the Community of Floreana signs MoU

Max Freire, Maria de Lourdes Soria and Jascivan Carvalho in Floreana

Floreana Island is famous for Post Office Bay and beautiful beaches with cavorting sea lions. Its residents, most of whom live near Floreana Lava Lodge, don’t interact with or benefit from tourism to Post Office Bay (on the far side of the island).

Post Office Trail Development

Galapagos National Park Representatives, Waponi and Community participate at Trail Development

The Galapagos National Park is permitting Floreana Island residents to offer a two to three-hour organized hike to Post Office Bay and to offer rentals of kayaking and snorkeling equipment at the Bay.

For this important community tourism start-up, Tropic and Waponi will provide technical and financial support for volunteers supplied from a partner, the University of Exeter (UK) Business School and the One Planet MBA. Two volunteer MBA students from Exeter will spend three months on Floreana Island establishing parameters for the operation, developing product, training and defining a proposed commercial strategy. They arrive July 4.

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