Diving in the Galapagos with Ridlon and Carin exceeded all expectations.

We knew it would be wonderful, since we have traveled many times with Global Diving Adventures, but were blown away by the density and abundance of sea life in the Pacific.

Ridlon is an excellent guide, and was careful to point out to members of our group that Ruben (El Toro Grande) was NOT to be confused with the whale shark (El Gran Senor)

. We are lucky he and Carin still let us dive with them, since El Toro Grande always runs out of air before everyone else. This is not to mention Marilyn's perpetual mask problems and psychic meltdown during the first Galapagos dive.

In truth, Ridlon and Carin are the only people we were willing to trust with our children when they first learned to dive, years ago in Bonaire. We always have a blast with GDA, both in the water and above.
— Ruben and Marilyn Lemos, Founding Members since 2002.

Galapagos Islands

Destination Review: Galapagos Diving

First Thoughts

A friend, Jack Grove who worked at the Darwin Research Station and authored the definitive U/W guide to Galapagos used to regale us with stories of living and diving in Galapagos. It was over ten years ago but I can clearly remember thinking, I can’t wait to get to this place! As soon as we got there the first time, it was obvious why the Galapagos Islands inspired Darwin and his seminal work on evolution.

The Galapagos is a treasure trove of endemism (animals and plants that exist there and nowhere else). If you want to see creatures and sea creatures that exist nowhere else.. go. And go soon as long line fishing boats are still illegally taking their toll on the park. Yes, it is a national park and yes it is being fished.

The Galapagos Islands, located 600 miles of the coast of Ecuador, are the islands of dreams for anyone interested in large pelagic life and prehistoric land critters. This is the place of legends for animals like the Galapagos tortoise, the flightless cormorants, salt spitting marine iguanas, whale sharks, schooling hammerheads, and yes, even penguins. A national park and UNESCO World Heritage listed area since 1978, the islands have become a popular destination for worldwide travelers.

The geology of the Galapagos is one of the many things that make the islands so special. Geologically, they are newborns, only rising to the surface about 6 million years ago. Today, there are still active volcanoes on many of the islands which means that Galapagos is growing. Underwater, the islands are at the convergence of at least five major oceanic currents which cause both the incredible marine diversity (abundance of different kinds of animals and plants) and the wide range of diving conditions.

There is rigid control over what and where travelers are allowed but there are still infinite adventures to be had. We have traveled to the Galapagos over a half dozen times and still look forward to every return. Different seasons bring different adventures

Why We Think Galapagos Rocks or Doesn’t

Because it’s legendary and such an intact piece of nature that it inspired Darwin in his treatise on Evolution by Natural Selection. Because it has incredible endemism (stuff that lives there and no place else) and we show people things like adaptive radiation and founder effect. There are penguins living on the equator and you have to make sure you don’t step on a waved Albatross because they aren’t afraid of you. And because it’s the only place I’ve ever surfed a 40 whale shark while I had hammerheads swimming around me. Underwater the adventure can center around a number of tremendous critters including almost guaranteed whale sharks in season, schooling hammerheads, squadrons of eagle rays, playful sea lions, hordes of white tip sharks and well…should I go on? On land you can see nature that has been mostly undisturbed including waved albatross, marine iguanas, flightless cormorants, seals and sea lions. Note: All shore excursions are guided by licensed naturalists and restrictions for interacting with wildlife are strictly enforced.

While the Galapagos Islands are the highlight of the trip for divers providing incredible animal encounters both above and below the water, Ecuador as a country is not to be missed. If all you want to do is dive, then fly in and out of Guyaquil (cheaper) and get to the islands. But, we prefer to fly into Quito and stay at a great boutique hotel called Cafe Cultura in the old French embassy. Then we spend a few days up in the Andean highlands at an authentic hacienda. We enjoy a few days of Ecuadorean culture, the markets, riding horses, viewing volcanoes, and talking with shaman. It makes for a great all around experience.

Things that Rock

  • completely unique, enough to inspire Darwin
  • mostly extant ecosystem, most of what Darwin saw is still there
  • high endemism
  • ecological vet the animals are easy to approach
  • combo safari and diving is hard to beat
  • can see Andean highlands which are very cool
  • you’ll run out of memory on your digital camera

Things that Don’t

  • park is restrictive in where you can go, what you can do and inflexible on itinerary
  • operators are fighting over diving and land permits, can’t do both from one ship
  • not a good place for beginning divers
  • cashy Ntl Park Fee and most of it doesn’t go to Park
  • colder water, you’ll want a 7MM suit to dive here

The Diving

Galapagos diving is as highly variable as the islands themselves (see below). Expect different experiences and animals in the Northern and Central/Southern Islands. Also expect differences on the Western side of the Islands. The Galapagos Islands sit on a large underwater plateau and at the confluence of no fewer than five major oceanic currents. The western side of this undersea plateau is steep and causes significant upwelling of cooler water as deeper currents hit it and rise to the surface. This is why the Western side of Isabella and Fernandina have the coolest water in the archipelago and very different marine life. Likewise, the most northern islands of Wolf and Darwin are affected by a warmer current that does not reach the central or southern islands. Thus, warmer water and different fish, including tropical reef fish seen nowhere else in the archipelago. The best option is to find an itinerary that lets you dive the southern, central and northern islands. People are often in a rush to get up to Wolf and Darwin because of the hammerheads and whale sharks. Don’t miss the diving in the rest of the archipelago as it can be excellent as well.

Land Based or Live aboard in Galapagos?

Hands down the best way to dive Galapagos is by boat/ship. There are a few land based operators but they simply don’t have the reach to get to most of the dive sites and liveaboard is the only way to get to the northern islands of Wolf and Darwin, which are an overnight steam away. You should get in about 20 dives on a liveaboard on a 7 night itinerary.
*Note* A couple of years ago some hard core restrictions put the kibosh on the ability to do unique itineraries and trips of greater than 7 days. This really sucks.

Galapagos Island Dive Safety

Use of GPS trackers, sound signaling devices and safety sausages is extremely important in remote areas like the Galapagos. We also recommend a reel and surface float in case you become separated from your dive guide. There are strong currents here and you can drift a long way in a short period of time. The Galapagos Sky equips each dive team with a tracking device kudos to them for doing this.

Dive Areas in Galapagos

The Northern Islands- Wolf and Darwin

Wolf and Darwin islands are located about 150 miles north of the central Galapagos Islands and have unique characteristics. Neither island is accessible for shore visits as their sheer cliffs would be impossible to scale. Because of this the islands are not visited by the safari boats, meaning the boats that are doing land tours only. The islands are left solely to the live aboard dive boats to enjoy. Currents around Wolf and Darwin bring the warmest waters of Galapagos sometime reaching as high as 80 degrees. It is here you will find schooling hammerheads and whale sharks, dolphin and tuna schools, turtles and eagle rays. The prevailing current has also allowed larvae from various tropical reef fish such as the double saddle butterfly to the islands. Many of the reef fish here are not found in the other areas of Galapagos.

On one occasion on an October trip, we spotted a mother and calf humpback whale on the back side of Wolf at sunset. Always keep your eyes peeled here.

Darwin Island, “The Arch”

Darwin’s Arch is the landmark by which divers know they have found whale shark heaven during the northern hemispheres summer and fall months. It is not uncommon to find the worlds largest fish on 11 out of 12 dives here, sometimes multiple sightings on the same dive. Diving with whale sharks is one of greatest thrills of a divers lifetime and when one is sighted the race is on. Keeping up with a moving whale shark can get the heart pumping. It is VERY easy to lose track of EVERYTHING when the whale shark shows up including NDL, air, depth, time and buddies!

Darwin’s Arch can also produce schools of hammerheads and silky sharks as well as turtles and dolphin. Keep your eyes out in the blue at all times! Be sure to have a surface float and reel and if you lose the group and end up doing your safety stop in the blue, pop your float on your reel immediately or ditch the safety stop altogether. Strong currents can take you far fast and this way the dive boat will see you while you are still in range and can follow your float.

Wolf Island

Wolf Island’s reputation definitely leans towards hammerheads in large schools and on occasion whale sharks. This is a fantastic place to find schools of eagle rays and also large Galapagos sharks. Always keep your eyes on the blue! It is not uncommon to find schools of tuna and jack sweep past you on your safety stop!

Central Islands

The Central islands of Galapagos offer some of the most varied diving in the world. You can find strong and mild currents, warm and downright ass chilling cold water, good to horrible visibility and batfish to baitfish to sharks.

North Seymour

North Seymour is a fun dive site because it is always changing. Visibility is often very good here and is generally dived on one of the first days of your trip. You scoot along with the current (mild to strong!) and things just pop out in front of you. It is a sea lion rookery so you’ll be cruising along when all of the sudden a sea lion is in your face, then gone, then back again, then gone, then spinning around you and if it’s a pup, it may take a quick nip at your head. Then all of the sudden a manta ray swims by, then an eagle ray. Then you come up to a small ledge and a hundred white tip sharks are hanging in the current. Then you come around a corner and there is a huge school of small barracuda. You just never know what’s in store at North Seymour.

Cousin’s Rock

Cousin’s Rock is a great place to find seahorses, octopi and sometimes frogfish. One side is a series of dramatic terraced ledges where the ever present Creole fish hide from the ever hunting sea lions. A perennial favorite.

Gordon Rocks

Due to it’s proximity to Puerto Ayora, Gordon Rocks is a favorite place for the last dives of the trip. There are two rocks with swirling currents between them, often causing you to perform figure eights. In between the rocks is where you can often find the little cownose rays and on the outside you can often find fur seals sleeping on the rocks often diving into the water and in front of your camera in the clearer water. This is another surprise dive as anything can show up here!

Punta Vicente Roca

Good macro dive for nudibranchs, the Red-lipped Batfish and Seahorses. We’ve heard Mola Mola are seen here but we’ve never seen them.

Our Favorite Things to Do Out of the Water

We believe in Surf and Turf checking out the best of underwater AND on land. It just so happens that most of the worlds best SCUBA diving destinations have other amazing things going for them in addition to kick ass diving. Don’t miss it.

  • In October, wander near the sealion harems and spot one giving birth. Simply amazing.
  • In late March, the waved albatross arrive on the island of Espanola, their only breeding ground. Some 12,000 pairs arrive here and to watch their mating dance is a HIGHLIGHT of a visit. They need strong headwinds to take flight so at Punta Suarez they simply jump off the high cliffs into the updraft.
  • Snorkel with Penguins at Pinnacle Rock on Bartolome Island. These are the most northern penguins in the world! Then hike the Summit Trail to the top of the island and get the best view in the archipelago.
  • Visit blue footed boobie colonies on many of the islands. Paint your toenails blue and do the mating dance by lifting one foot then the other. The bluer the feet the more attractive to the opposite sex!
  • Snorkel and spot marine iguanas feeding underwater. These sea going reptiles are only found in the Galapagos.
  • Divers only will travel to Wolfe and Darwin Islands. Watch for humpback whales in the November time frame off Darwin.
  • Snorkel with dolphin off Darwin island. We like to get in the water and have a small inflatable circle us. The dolphin love to follow the boat and you can get great photos and video!

Galapagos Seasonality

Something is going on all the time in the Galapagos Islands. June thru December is considered the dry season and most of the sea birds are in mating mode. The colder Humboldt Current is present and water and air temps are cooler and often a mist hangs over the islands. This is called the garua and the height of the cold and mist is usually around September and October. December to June is the warmer season when the Panama current brings warmer waters and more tropical conditions including rain.
Here’s a partial critter list!

Whale Sharks & Hammerheads Wolfe & Darwin June-November
Waved Albatross Espanola Late March-December
Sea Lion & Fur Seas Year Around
Iguana Year Around
Penguins Bartolome Year Around
Dolphin Year Around

Water Temperature and Seasonality

When to dive Galapagos depends on what you want to see. Most divers who go want to see whale sharks. The season for whale sharks runs from the end of June into November. This coincides with the dry season but also the garua season. The garua can bring cool winds as well as a light drizzle. Temperatures on land average in the 70’s. Seas are choppier during this time of the year.
December to May coincides with the hot season when humidity is high and temperatures are up in the 80s F. Seas are calmer and there is more rain during this time of the year.
We have made numerous trips to Galapagos in October and have never failed to have fantastic whale shark encounters. Sometimes we do find the accompanying garua weather but when the whale sharks are there, who cares? We have also made trips in May where we find calmer seas and hammerheads in shallower water when water temperatures are lower but it’s early for whale sharks.
On land, something is happening every month of the year as well. Check out the critter calendar a little further down.

Galapagos water temperatures

June to December is when the Humbolt current is predominating. This brings cooler temperatures averaging 70-74 degrees though temperatures vary quite a bit throughout the archipelago. In some areas temperatures reach down as low as the low 60’s.

December to June the warmer Panama current is predominating, bringing warmer surface temperatures averaging 73-78.  Again, temperatures vary CONSIDERABLY depending on which side of which island you are diving.

Wolf and Darwin are always in the upper ranges of temperatures rarely dipping below 70 and often reaching 78 or even 80 degrees.

Galapagos underwater visibility

A good rule of thumb for Galapagos is always to expect everything to vary! Again, depending on which side of which island at which time of the year everything can change. Visibility tends to be best up at Wolf and Darwin reaching 80-100 feet and can drop as low as 30 ft at Gordon Rocks.

Overall

Galapagos is a bucket list kind of place. It really feels like you are going on a safari and you are. Because of restrictions, you may need to spend a week on a diving boat and then a week on a safari boat to really see most of what there is to see both underwater and on land but it’s worth it. You’ll see things here that don’t exist anywhere else in the world and the diving runs from curiously interesting to in-your-face, high voltage. It’s not a place for beginner divers and it’s good to have experience diving in currents and drift diving before coming here. Its UNESCO listing brings international pressure to bear for its conservation but it is unsure what the long term commitment will be from the Ecuadoran government or how effective it will be in preserving this unique place. Go sooner rather than later.

Sharkman and Mantagirl give Galapagos

Two Fins UP

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Destination Extras!

PASSPORT AND HEALTH REQUIREMENTS

Passport

A valid passport is required to enter and exit Ecuador. Please make sure that your passport is valid for six months from the date of entry into the country and that you have enough space for entry/exit stamps. If you do not hold a valid passport, apply as soon as possible as it may take some time to receive. Always keep a copy of the face page of your passport located in a separate place than your passport.

Departure Tax

A departure tax of US$45 per person applies when leaving Ecuador as of 2010. This is payable in CASH ONLY, no credit cards or travelers checks accepted.

Health

A good source for information is the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. Call their 24 hour recorded Travelers Health Hotline at 404-332-4559, or toll-free information at 888-232-3228. The CDC is also on line at http:/www.cdc.gov. The following information is current as of February 6, 2003:

There are risks of certain diseases in Ecuador. The CDC says about malaria in Ecuador that there is no risk at altitudes higher than 1,500 meters (4,921 feet). No risk in Guayaquil, Quito, the central highland tourist areas, and the Galapagos Islands.
Cholera does exist in Ecuador; however, basic precautions can minimize this risk. ALWAYS drink bottled water as water is not safe to drink anywhere in the country including in Quito. Make sure to use bottled water to brush your teeth and do not put ice in your drinks.

Food

When traveling anywhere in foreign countries, take general common sense precautions with food. Bottled water is always recommended. Drink it without ice and use it for brushing your teeth. Keep in mind that there are several factors which can lead to an upset stomach or travelers diarrhea which include; any time a traveler eats food that is different from their normal diet and eating food in amounts that are different from normal.

GENERAL TRAVEL INFORMATION

Baggage Restrictions

This may seem strange but in order to get to the remote islands of Palau we don’t need to fly in a small airplane!!! Continental Air Micronesia flies 727’s into Palau so normal baggage restrictions apply. You don’t even have to get on the scale like we used to do in Fiji! However, that doesn’t mean you need to bring ALL your new Christmas presents with you!

Continental Airlines

Please check with your airlines directly for luggage restrictions. They change so often it doesn’t make sense to list them here.

Airport-Baggage and Check in

Be sure that all luggage is tagged with your identification and that the check-in agent properly tags your bags to the correct destination. Generally when luggage is lost en route it happens between domestic and international changes. If lost, fill out a missing luggage form on the spot. Get the name of the agent and his/her on premise number and be sure to keep a copy of the form. Ask how much the airline will grant for emergency purchases.

You should check in at least two hours ahead of time for international flights. You will need your passport, airline ticket and identification when checking in.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION ON GALAPAGOS

Electricity/Water

Electricity to all the main centers is 110 and a standard US two prong plug is used. Note that on the mainland you will rarely find a three-prong socket so if you have one you will need a 3 to 2 prong adapter.

Telephone

Ecuador has modern telecommunication systems locally and internationally. It is easy to reach an ATT, MCI, or Sprint operator. For ATT dial 999-110. For MCI access dial 999-170 and for Sprint 999-175. Most hotels charge a fee for connection. Toll free numbers in the US are not accessible. On board most boats there is a cell phone for emergency purposes and does not reach the outer islands of Wolf and Darwin. We suggest that you explain to friends and family that unless it is an emergency you will be off the radar screen.

Fax

Fax service is available at most mainland hotels for a fee.

Credit Cards

Most major credit cards are accepted throughout Ecuador, except in small shops or markets.

Exchange Rate

The US dollar is the currency in Ecuador. You may find that you receive coins back that are Ecuadorian. The amount of the coins coincides with US currency but the coins cannot be spent home in the US. We always recommend you travel with plenty of $1.00 bills. Things are cheap in Ecuador and they come in handy. Plus, rarely do people have change in hopes of just getting the larger bill you have.

Time Zone

Ecuador is on Eastern Standard Time. They do no participate in daylight savings time. The Galapagos Islands being hundreds of miles to the west are on Central Standard Time. Some live aboards, however, remains on mainland time in order to give you the most daylight hours.

Climate

With elevations reaching from 19,000ft to sea level the climate varies tremendously in Ecuador. Therefore we will concentrate on the areas where most divers will travel and experience the country. The Andean highlands have the reputation of eternal spring.In the mornings and evenings you are happy curled up by a roaring fire as temperatures dip to 50 or less. During the day, average temperatures reach the mid-70’s. The rainy season spans October to April with the dry season from June to September. Rain is usually in the form of daily afternoon showers.

In the Galapagos, the climate is almost completely determined by the ocean currents. The islands, due to their location on the equator, enjoy 12 hours of daylight year around. The hot and rainy season arrives from January to April as the warm Panama Current sweeps down from the north. Water temperatures warm to about 78 degrees and daily showers bring an average of about 5 inches of rain a month to the islands. You’ll encounter more warm, sunny days during this time of the year and land temperatures can reach into the 90’s. The seasons change during April/May. This is also the time of whale sharks!!!! From May-December, the cooler Humboldt or Peruvian Current begins to take over bringing water temperatures down into the 60’s by the height of the cold, dry season. Any precipitation that falls usually does so in the form of a misty drizzle that can cover the higher elevations of the islands. This is called the Garua season. Lower elevations remain dry.

Population

As of July 2008, the population of Ecuador was estimated at 13.9 million. The age structure of the country breaks down to the following: 0-14 years: 35.4% 15-64 years: 60.2% , 65 years and over: 4.4%. Ethnic groups break down to the following: mestizo (mixed Amerindian and Spanish) 65%, Amerindian 25%, Spanish and others 7%, black 3%.

Language

The official language is Spanish though many people also speak an Amerindian language called Quechua.

Religion

Since the first conquistador planted a cross in honor of God and the King of Spain, Roman Catholicism has been a linchpin of Latin American culture. 95% of the country practices Catholicism. Indigenous religions are still firmly entrenched in the country though usually mixed with Catholicism. There is a small enclave of other religions such as Judaism, Bahai and LDS.

Economy

Ecuador has substantial oil resources and rich agricultural areas. Because the country exports primary products such as oil, bananas, and shrimp, fluctuations in world market prices can have a substantial domestic impact. Ecuador joined the World Trade Organization in 1996, but has failed to comply with many of its accession commitments. The aftermath of El Nino and depressed oil market of 1997-98 drove Ecuador’s economy into a free-fall in 1999. The beginning of 1999 saw the banking sector collapse, which helped precipitate an unprecedented default on external loans later that year. Continued economic instability drove a 70% depreciation of the currency throughout 1999, which forced a desperate government to “dollarize” the currency regime in 2000. The move stabilized the currency.

Industrial products include petroleum, food processing, textiles, metal work, paper products, wood products, chemicals, plastics, fishing, and lumber. Agricultural products include bananas, coffee, cocoa, rice, potatoes, manioc (tapioca), plantains, sugarcane; cattle, sheep, pigs, beef, pork, dairy products; balsa wood; fish, flowers, and shrimp.

The majority of trade is done with the United States. There is a large disparity between rich and poor in Ecuador. It is estimated that 70% of Ecuadorians live below the poverty line.

People

Ecuador’s population is ethnically mixed. The largest ethnic groups are indigenous and mestizo. Although Ecuadorians were heavily concentrated in the mountainous central highland region a few decades ago, today’s population is divided about equally between that area and the coastal lowlands. Migration toward cities–particularly larger cities–in all regions has increased the urban population to about 55%. Due to the recent economic crisis, more than 600,000 Ecuadorians emigrated to the U.S. and Europe from 2000 to 2001. The tropical forest region to the east of the mountains remains sparsely populated and contains only about 3% of the population.
The public education system is tuition-free, and attendance is mandatory from ages 6 to 14. In practice, however, many children drop out before age 15, and, in rural areas only about one-third complete sixth grade. The government is striving to create better programs for the rural and urban poor, especially in technical and occupational training. In recent years, it also has been successful in reducing illiteracy. Enrollment in primary schools has been increasing at an annual rate of 4.4%–faster than the population growth rate. According to the 1979 constitution, the central government must allocate at least 30% of its revenue to education; in practice, however, it allots a much smaller percentage. Public universities have an open admissions policy. In recent years, however, large increases in the student population, budget difficulties, and extreme politicization of the university system have led to a decline in academic standards.

History of Ecuador

Advanced indigenous cultures flourished in Ecuador long before the area was conquered by the Inca empire in the 15th century. In 1534, the Spanish arrived and defeated the Inca armies, and Spanish colonists became the new elite. The indigenous population was decimated by disease in the first decades of Spanish rule–a time when the natives also were forced into the “encomienda” labor system for Spanish landlords. In 1563, Quito became the seat of a royal “audiencia” (administrative district) of Spain.
After independence forces defeated the royalist army in 1822, Ecuador joined Simon Bolivar’s Republic of Gran Colombia, only to become a separate republic in 1830. The 19th century was marked by instability, with a rapid succession of rulers. The conservative Gabriel Garcia Moreno unified the country in the 1860s with the support of the Catholic Church. In the late 1800s, world demand for cocoa tied the economy to commodity exports and led to migrations from the highlands to the agricultural frontier on the coast.
A coastal-based liberal revolution in 1895 under Eloy Alfaro reduced the power of the clergy and opened the way for capitalist development. The end of the cocoa boom produced renewed political instability and a military coup in 1925. The 1930s and 1940s were marked by populist politicians such as five-time president Jose Velasco Ibarra. In January 1942, Ecuador signed the Rio Protocol to end a brief war with Peru the year before. Ecuador agreed to a border that conceded to Peru much territory Ecuador previously had claimed in the Amazon. After World War II, a recovery in the market for agricultural commodities and the growth of the banana industry helped restore prosperity and political peace. From 1948-60, three presidents–beginning with Galo Plaza–were freely elected and completed their terms.
Recession and popular unrest led to a return to populist politics and domestic military interventions in the 1960s, while foreign companies developed oil resources in the Ecuadorian Amazon. In 1972, a nationalist military regime seized power and used the new oil wealth and foreign borrowing to pay for a program of industrialization, land reform, and subsidies for urban consumers. With the oil boom fading, Ecuador returned to democracy in 1979, but by 1982, the government faced an economic crisis, characterized by inflation, budget deficits, a falling currency, mounting debt service, and uncompetitive industries.

The 1984 presidential elections were narrowly won by Leon Febres-Cordero of the Social Christian Party (PSC). During the first years of his administration, Febres-Cordero introduced free-market economic policies, took strong stands against drug trafficking and terrorism, and pursued close relations with the United States. His tenure was marred by bitter wrangling with other branches of government and his own brief kidnapping by elements of the military. A devastating earthquake in March 1987 interrupted oil exports and worsened the country’s economic problems.

Rodrigo Borja of the Democratic Left (ID) party won the presidency in 1988. His government was committed to improving human rights protection and carried out some reforms, notably an opening of Ecuador to foreign trade. The Borja government concluded an accord leading to the disbanding of the small terrorist group, “Alfaro Lives.” However, continuing economic problems undermined the popularity of the ID, and opposition parties gained control of congress in 1990.
In 1992, Sixto Duran-Ballen won in his third run for the presidency. His government succeeded in pushing a limited number of modernization initiatives through Congress. Duran-Ballen’s vice president, Alberto Dahik, was the architect of the administration’s economic policies, but in 1995, Dahik fled the country to avoid prosecution on corruption charges following a heated political battle with the opposition. A war with Peru erupted in January-February 1995 in a small, remote region where the boundary prescribed by the 1942 Rio Protocol was in dispute.

Abdala Bucaram, from the Guayaquil-based Ecuadorian Roldosista Party (PRE), won the presidency in 1996 on a platform that promised populist economic and social policies and the breaking of what Bucaram termed as the power of the nation’s oligarchy. During his short term of office, Bucaram’s administration drew criticism for corruption. Bucaram was deposed by the Congress in February 1997 on grounds of alleged mental incompetence. In his place, Congress named interim President Fabian Alarcon, who had been president of Congress and head of the small Radical Alfarist Front party. Alarcon’s interim presidency was endorsed by a May 1997 popular referendum.
Congressional and first-round presidential elections were held on May 31, 1998. No presidential candidate obtained a majority, so a run-off election between the top two candidates–Quito Mayor Jamil Mahuad of the Popular Democracy party and Alvaro Noboa of the Ecuadorian Roldosista Party (PRE)–was held on July 12, 1998. Mahuad won by a narrow margin. He took office on August 10, 1998. On the same day, Ecuador’s new constitution came into effect.
Mahuad concluded a well-received peace with Peru on October 26, 1998, but increasing economic, fiscal, and financial difficulties drove his popularity steadily lower. On January 21, 2000, during demonstrations in Quito by indigenous groups, the military and police refused to enforce public order. Demonstrators entered the National Assembly building and declared a three-person “junta” in charge of the country. Field-grade military officers declared their support for the concept. During a night of confusion and negotiations, President Mahuad was obliged to flee the presidential palace. Vice President Gustavo Noboa took charge; Mahuad went on national television in the morning to endorse Noboa as his successor. Congress met in emergency session in Guayaquil the same day, January 22, and ratified Noboa as President of the Republic in constitutional succession to Mahuad.

Noboa is not a member of a political party and has depended on several parties in Congress to pass legislation. He has faced the task of sustaining political support for reform in the face of social tension as the Government attempted to restore economic growth. Noboa’s term ends January 15, 2003.