Boli with guests.

Galapagos Grown: An Interview With IE Expedition Leader Bolivar Sanchez

Boli with guests.

The Galapagos Islands have a total population of around 25,000 now. But when Bolivar Sanchez was growing up on the island of Santa Cruz in the ‘70s and ‘80s, there were far fewer.

The International Expeditions naturalist recalls an idyllic childhood, swimming with Galapagos Islands animals and exploring the area on his father’s boat. Now an Expedition Leader on IE's Galapagos cruises, his life’s mission is introducing visitors to the myriad wonders of his native land and educating them about the importance conservation and ecotourism plays in its future.

We recently caught up with Boli for a conversation about how the islands have changed, why he loves the wildlife found in the water as much as that found on land, and what he hopes guests will take away from their trip to his island home.

What was childhood like for you growing up in the Galapagos Islands? Where did you live, and what are some of your early memories of interacting with nature?

My childhood in the Galapagos was a very special one. It was a very small, natural environment, with many close friends and no danger of any kind. We lived on Santa Cruz island, but I was blessed to have the opportunity to spend time in the highlands at my parents’ and grandparents’ farm. I also spent time traveling with my father, who was the captain of his own boat and used to take tourists around the islands in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I have many wonderful memories of swimming and playing with Galapagos Islands animals – sea lions, sharks, turtles  and penguins – and going fishing for lobster and tuna. The water was, and still is, my favorite part of the islands.

How have the Galapagos Islands changed since you were a boy?

I don't think the islands have changed that much, but the conditions have changed a lot. There are so many more visitors now, and therefore many more restrictions of all types. The Galapagos became an important  tourist destination. Of course that implies more travelers coming and more money for the communities, but also more pressure on the surrounding ecosystems.
Can you tell me a bit about your education in Earth Sciences, and how you originally became a naturalist guide?

I always loved the outdoors, so studying Environmental Science was great because it gave me an opportunity to be out there doing – and looking at – the things I really like. The outdoors for me means freedom. I guess I was born a naturalist, since I was born in a natural environment with no modern luxuries at all. So this naturalist thing was always in me.


I've traveled all over the world and have never been any place like the Galapagos. What makes these islands so special in your eyes?

There are many wonderful places on our planet, but there is only one Galapagos. Galapagos is special because it’s the only place I know where mankind and nature can co-exist in a friendly way. It’s the only place where humans can approach nature in a natural way, and nature shows no fear or concern. It is easy to love and respect nature after visiting these islands.
Can you explain the important role ecotourism has had, and continues to have, in Galapagos conservation?

Ecotourism is an important education and conservation management tool. It is the only concrete way to educate the world about having a love and respect for nature. It’s the best way to show our natural environment to the public, so that they can see it and love it more. People protect what they love, and you can't love what you have not seen yet.


One of the things that surprised me most about the islands was the amazing diversity of wildlife you see in the water. Can you talk about the Galapagos Islands animals guests will see while snorkeling?

The underwater world is an important component of our trip. It is closely associated to the land part, since the water provides the food for most of the Galapagos Islands animals. We have opportunities to enjoy the water and snorkel on every day of our IE trips. We swim with penguins and Galapagos sea lions, little sharks, sea turtles and rays. We have more and more scuba divers coming to the region, attracted by the friendly underwater conditions and the amount of sea life they find here.
As an Expedition Leader, what do you hope that people take away from visiting the Galapagos?

My goal is that every guest we have will go home, not only with thousands of pictures of the islands’ creatures, but with the best memories of our country and our people. But, beyond that, my real goal is to contribute to their education and love for nature. Hopefully they go home with a better understanding of the importance of protecting our planet and its creatures. Hopefully they will go home with a conservation message about all the good things we are doing in the Galapagos. Despite economic complications, Ecuador is putting a lot of money and effort into trying to protect our natural resources. We only have one known home – our wonderful blue planet – and we had better take good care of it!