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November 9, 2015
Interpretive Guide Training Session in the Galapagos
Sam Ham on San Cristobal Island with Galakiwi

So, what happens after you become a Galapagos Naturalist Guide? Do you keep on learning? If you already know how to talk about all of the animals and islands in the Galapagos, what else is left to learn?

For the vast majority of guides, you’re left to hone your own skills and style in delivering the best experiences possible for your travelers.  Options can be limited if you’re interested in constantly improving yourself, and the experience that your travelers receive on your tours.

Galakiwi Guide Pepo and Owner Tim

Galakiwi “Super Plan” Guide Pepo and Owner Tim – Carbing up Before the Training


Luckily, decades ago Dr. Sam Ham began providing training sessions in the Galapagos Islands. Over time, his concepts have helped a select group of Galapagos guides (and guides in the US and around the world!) develop techniques to connect with travelers and make them think more deeply about the destinations they are visiting.

Two years ago, in partnership with the Galapagos National Park and the IGTOA (International Galapagos Tour Operators Association), Sam Ham and Tom O’Brien were brought in to officially add an interpretive guide training element into the Galapagos National Park training curriculum.

Galapagos guides have had a set of training guidelines in place for 40 years, evolving over time just as the animals of the islands have, and the concept of interpretive guiding is the latest addition to the range of skillsets some Galapagos Naturalist Guides have at their disposal.

Our Galakiwi guides were all more than happy to take time to come into the “office” this past Sunday when Sam and Tom came to town. It was a unique opportunity – the first time in history – that a private guide training session would be held on San Cristobal Island with Sam Ham.

Sam Ham Talking to the Galakiwi Team

Sam Ham Talking to the Galakiwi Team


This private session was held ahead of the public guide training sessions put together by the Galapagos Park, WWF Ecuador and IGTOA. The overall goal is to build a level of knowledge and excellence in the islands that is sustainable, by having designated IGTOA Certified Guide trainers be available to train new guides with better frequency and methodologies.

The intentions of the training are solid, with the goal of the Galapagos National Park taking over the planning and administration of future training sessions.

Next week, Galakiwi will continue with some private sessions. We’ll be enjoying a weekend-long training session with Tom O’Brien, exclusively for our guides and staff. After the first talks with Sam, we’re really looking forward to hearing what Tom has to say.

Since Galakiwi is not a member of IGTOA, having the private session was of great benefit to our guides. We were able to learn directly from Sam, and have a solid foundation in place before heading into the public sessions and upcoming weekend of learning with Tom.

Being an international organization, the IGTOA currently does not allow for local Galapagos tour operators to become members. It also means that it is extremely rare for guides from land-based tour operators to get involved with the IGTOA initiatives. We’ve been pushing for years to have IGTOA be more inclusive and allow local membership, as it would do nothing but improve the overall health of tourism and guiding in the Galapagos. Hopefully these new interpretive training sessions may be a sign of change!

If you’re curious to know more about what we were talking about here in the Galapagos, Sam has written two books on the topic of thematic interpretation. His first book, published in 1993, is titled “Environmental Interpretation: A Practical Guide for People with Big Ideas and Small Budgets“. His second book, published in 2013, is titled “Interpretation-Making a Difference on Purpose“.


2 Comments on this post

Commented on March 31, 2017 at 2:21 AM

Ha, after all this time, I’ve just now seen this. Thank you so much GalaKiwi. I thoroughly enjoyed spending an evening with your great guides. A lot of fun!


    Commented on April 5, 2017 at 3:15 PM

    Thanks Sam, it was a pleasure having you join us and teach us some new ideas for how to engage with our travelers. Hope to see you in the Galapagos again!


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