Exploring The World's Remote Regions: One on One With Bill Roberson, INCA
A pioneering adventure travel company founded on eco-tourism, International Nature Cultural Adventures (INCA) has offered "adventures with a conscience" for nearly 40 years. The company specializes in eight exotic destinations: Antarctica, Alaska, Chile and Patagonia, the Galápagos Islands, Peru, Turkey, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
INCA itineraries are limited to 16 participants or fewer, as the company’s customized adventures are specially tailored for families and small groups. INCA is a long-time partner of the Galápagos Conservancy. We spoke recently with Bill Roberson, the company’s president, to learn about INCA’s operations in some of the world’s most far-flung regions.
TravelPulse: Some of your destinations, including Antarctica, Patagonia, the Galápagos, are among the world’s most remote places and attract a certain type of traveler. What led you to begin offering travel to these regions, and what is the profile of someone who opts for this sort of vacation experience?
Bill Roberson: These were among the first places I traveled to. I tromped around Peru and sailed to Galápagos in the 1970s. These destinations have incredible depth. They are stunning, stimulating, inspiring, eye-opening, life-changing. I wanted to share these experiences with our guests and clients. Does a destination promise to inspire our travelers at a deep level — to open their minds and hearts, expand their horizons, hone their senses, and generate the passion that will get them to care and protect the flora, fauna, and peoples? That's what we look for.
Our guests tend to be people who have a desire to learn and want a real in-depth experience. They are curious about the world, have a love of nature and are keen to explore and have unusual experiences.
TP: There are now several companies offering tours of the once-mysterious region of Galápagos. What distinguishes the excursions you provide?
BR: The three most important distinctions are: the vessel, the itinerary and the guides. There are more than 80 boats plying the waters around the Islands, and not all are created equal. They range in size from cruise ships with over 100 passengers, to mid-size vessels for 48 and catamarans for 24 passengers. Our yachts, Integrity and Reina Silvia, take 16 passengers and provide a more intimate experience.
Our itineraries were developed by me (based on my experience as a naturalist guide in the Galápagos National Park) and my German-Ecuadorian partner Rolf Sievers, who owns the yachts and was a former director of the Darwin Research Station. By spending the first night on Santa Cruz and two days before boarding the yacht, our guests can relax and become acclimated to the destinations after their flight. It gets them ready to "be in the place."
On Santa Cruz they spend time seeing the Giant Tortoises in the wild and at the Darwin Research Station. Then we go off and explore the outer islands. INCA's guests get a full day more cruising and get to see more of the remote and very rewarding visitor sites on the outer islands.
All the other companies start from Baltra and then have to return to Santa Cruz in the middle of their cruise. We feel that return to "civilization" breaks the journey and means more back tracking.
I have hand-picked the guides. They speak excellent English (for many it is their mother tongue) and Spanish and usually another language. They have been guiding on average for 15 years and most have advanced degrees. What sets them apart is their passion for the Galápagos and its flora and fauna. Plus they are great teachers and are adept at communicating with all guests, from teenagers to seniors.
TP: Why have you incorporated yacht cruises into virtually all of your company’s itineraries?
BR: Cruising in the Galápagos or Alaska, Turkey, Patagonia and of course, Antarctica, you can access remote areas and sites that you would not be able to visit on foot and are only accessible by small yacht. Our guests visit and witness isolated archaeological sites, blue-footed boobies nesting, and waved albatrosses courting.
TP: How does your relationship with the Galápagos Conservancy impact your operations in the region?
BR: We can raise funds for the Conservancy, usually between $20,000 and $30,000 per year, and we are allowed some say as to how those funds are spent.
TP: As an operator, what are some of the most challenging aspects of traveling to these very remote regions?
BR: To coordinate and maintain all the pieces so the trip flows seamlessly, and to ensure we incorporate new activities and special surprises that enhance the guests' experience.
TP: What is a traveler going to enjoy most about a vacation with INCA?
BR: Learning about a new destination, a new culture, a new species. The ability to really get up close and personal to animals, plants, the natural world.
TP: What new products and/or itineraries and destinations do you plan to premiere in the coming weeks and months?
BR: We just introduced a shorter, less expensive 10-day Galápagos program on the Reina Silvia for time-starved travelers. INCA has organized private journeys to Africa for some of our clients. This year we have decided to expand into Africa with new programs to Zambia, Zimbabwe and Tanzania for the first time. For the really intrepid traveler, we have an expedition crossing the Altiplano to remote corners of Chile and Bolivia.
We would like our clients to return from an INCA trip with that joy that comes from having a truly life-changing experience. Ideally, we believe that if you give people a chance to fall in love with a place, a culture, an experience, they will come to love and care for it – and be mindful of protecting the planet.
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