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Who Did It And How It Happened. (Abridged)

Hotel Galapagos is a family operation reflecting the depth of 40 years' experience.

Forrest Nelson, school dropout, self-taught engineer, machinist, and navigation teacher, had a sailboat, the 36 foot "Nellie Brush". En route from Maryland to California he voyaged to Galapagos in 1951.

Forrest sailed to the Islands several times in the 1950's, eventually sold the boat in California and bought tools and supplies to homestead at "World's End". He arrived at Academy Bay in 1960 with twelve dollars in his pocket. About fifty people lived near the Bay, and two hundred more on the highlands farms. .

At that same time the Charles Darwin Research Station started up. Forrest was hired as manager and construction boss. He put up buildings and built the road from the Station into the village. Forrest received most of his pay as bags of cement, and started Hotel Galapagos in 1961. It was the first hotel in the islands. Persistence and penury filled the first years.  
  Hotel Galapagos hosted the occasional scientist or adventurous traveler. Forrest also distributed roofing, paint, water tanks, motor oil, and plastic plumbing. The profits subsidized the Hotel.
He finished the bar and restaurant building in 1965. There were four hotel rooms with private bath, plus other buildings including a generator house, carpentry, and warehouse. This was do-it-yourself pioneering. Even the building bricks were cast on-site.


In those years the central government resurfaced the Baltra Island airfield. The US Army built it originally during WWII to defend Panama. The repairs set the stage for eventual development of real tourism.
Forrest’s daughter Christine, recently graduated cum laude from USC, and footloose dropout son Jack came to visit in 1967. They arrived on a military flight, a four propeller DC-6, a throwback to the days of snorting exhaust pipes and leaking black oil.
Jack stayed several months, then embarked on an antique cattle boat, with 124 cows, 460 goats, and 70 humans in 140 feet of riveted iron. One of the engine’s six pistons broke, so the mechanic removed it. The remaining five cylinders drove a rollicking syncopation four days to Guayaquil.
Venturing Ecuador and Colombia overland, and another jaded DC-6, Jack contrived to enter Panama without a return ticket. He had twelve dollars in his pocket. Jack’s 20th birthday passed hitch-hiking in Guatemala toward California. Christine arrived in L.A. later with her new husband, Ecuadorian Jose Luis, school dropout, cabinet-maker and self-taught electronics wizard. Jose Luis was soon in charge of Jumbo Jet radar repair for RCA in Los Angeles.
Jack returned to Galapagos in 1968. There were about 400 people on Santa Cruz Island. Rustbucket freight boats came from Guayaquil three or five times in a year. There was no electricity in town, no bank, no communications except Forrest's amateur-band radio. The only car was the Station's battered jeep on the only road, a rocky mile from the Station to the dock. A donkey trail led to the highlands. TAME flew unpredictably to Baltra.
From today's viewpoint, it is difficult to imagine what life was like in such isolation. The outside world was an alien place, occasionally encountered by short wave radio, or a months-old magazine. We were tough and self reliant, our clothes patched and hands callused. But there was lots of free time, and space to enjoy it. We had the whole archipelago as our unlimited playground.

In November 1968 Forrest flew to Quito on an air force bomber. He convinced a major travel agent that organized tours were possible. They loaned the cash. We cast thousands of bricks in marathon sessions and built six rooms in ninety days. We chartered weekly flights and Capt. Mike Gordon's motor yacht. The first tour arrived in April of 1969. At the end of a year the new rooms were paid off and we still had our patched shirts.


In 1974 the first road across the island opened access to the narrow channel separating us from Baltra. The road put the airfield ninety minutes away instead of six hours by boat. The first bank opened in 1993 and brought the first telephone. These three elements; transportation, financing, and communications transformed life and business here. Now we have Internet cafes, nightlife, broad paved streets, shopping, and 12,000 residents. Some 80,000 tourists per year visit the Archipelago. On the four inhabited islands there are over seven hundred hotel beds, ranging from rough n’ ready to five stars.
Forrest moved to Thailand in 1986. In 1995 Jack formed a partnership with Mathias Espinoza, a renowned SCUBA diver master instructor. They established Scuba Iguana Divers at the Hotel. We are an official PADI DIVE RESORT.
Hotel Galapagos now has fourteen rooms, always maintained to high standards, and keeps true its style of a spacious rustic retreat in the wilderness. So much has changed around us; the pioneers’ village has grown to a city, the bay is busy with the traffic of tour boats, politics and regulations become daily concerns. But Hotel Galapagos is still the essential Galapagos, a tranquil expansive space full of wildlife and the brief human history of the Islands. Jack Nelson welcomes you to our island home.


Contact Us:
Isla Santa Cruz, Galapagos,
Ecuador South America
593 - 5 - 252 6330  (FAX also)
593 - 5 - 252 6296

Copyright © 2003 HOTEL GALAPAGOS. All rights reserved
Member of the Ecuador Guide to Ecuador, Quito and Galapagos Islands | DESIGN BY

Dozens of marine iguanas bask on the rocky shore outside the Hotel lounge. Herons, the endemic lava gulls, pelicans, frigate birds, the famous Darwin’s finches and many other birds are commonplace. Sea lions hunt in the shallows of Academy Bay, blue footed boobies plunge for fish.

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