If you are considering a trip to the Galapagos Islands, there’s no need to wait for an invitation. And if you’ve never considered visiting this archipelago of wonder, it’s time to put it on your list. Nowhere else on Earth will you find a place that combines unparalleled wildlife, pristine nature, and a tropical climate with an increasingly environmentally conscious community. Aside from advised precautions for travel to Ecuador related to COVID-19, it’s a no-brainer to start planning. Buy the ticket, take the trip.
The only question that remains is how to make the most of your adventure to the Galapagos.
What You Need to Know Before Travel
Situated roughly 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands provide a natural backdrop unlike anywhere else. A volcanic archipelago of 21 islands and even more islets, the Galapagos were discovered in 1535 by the Bishop of Panama who was knocked off course on a trip to Peru. Unimpressed by the islands, the bishop said it looked like it “rained stones.” Later visitors, including Charles Darwin, were struck by their abundant and diverse array of natural life. This is the place, after all, that inspired Darwin to create his theory of evolution found in On the Origin of Species.
In 1959, to help protect and maintain the ecosystem, 97 percent of the islands were declared Ecuador’s first national park. The very first UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979, the islands are also now protected by the Galapagos Marine Reserve covering more than 50,000 square miles of ocean. To help safeguard the environment, the government is also moving away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy sources. Currently, 15 percent of the islands’ power comes from renewable sources, mainly wind and solar.
Traveling the Galapagos requires a licensed guide for almost any activity of interest, as part of the effort to keep the flora and fauna protected. In addition, there is an associated fee ($100 for the national park) to enter most areas, as well as a visa ($20).
How to Travel in the Galapagos
A serious consideration for any travel to the Galapagos Islands is how to partake. In general, there are two ways to visit the Islands, by land or by sea. Traditionally, cruise ships and guided boat tours have dominated the number of experiences for travelers interested in the area. Today, however, land-based Galapagos itineraries have partitioned a considerable chunk of the tourism efforts.
Be it by boat or by land, it is hard to go wrong. Each island offers extraordinary opportunities, in addition to being entirely unique from its neighbor. Darwin wrote that it was the diversity of animal species on the islands that inspired him, “…several of the islands possess their own species of tortoise, mocking-thrush, finches, and numerous plants…that strikes me with wonder.”
One thing that the islands have in common, though, is a landscape that combines desolate rock fields reflecting desert and cooled lava fields. This varied terrain delivers quite the contrast alongside the vibrant vegetation and exotic wildlife.
Marine Life and Volcano Hikes on Isabela
Take Isabela Island, for example. Within the first hour of exploration by sea kayak you can quickly encounter Galapagos penguins, green sea turtles, and sea lions. These, of course, are in addition to the marine iguanas, Sally lightfoot crabs, eagle rays, and white-tip shark. Don’t forget to bring a snorkel!
Watch for the distinctive blue-footed boobies flocking to large mounds of lava rocks that emerge from the sea. One thing that many visitors remark on is how unafraid the animal residents are. You can walk up to a boobie doing a courtship dance for their mate and, to them, you might as well be a rock.
Another worthy expedition on Isabela is hiking the rim of Sierra Negra, one of the most active volcanoes in the islands (its most recent eruption occurring in 2018). Although there are seven different species of finch to be spotted along the hike, it is the endemic plant life and Sierra Negra’s enormous caldera that make this hike one-of-a-kind. Depending on your guide, you can learn about the natural landscape of the island and the impact that volcanos have had and continue to have on island life.
Visit the Giant Tortoises of Santa Cruz
Visiting the island of Santa Cruz, you’ll find the largest population of both people and giant land tortoises. The animals inspired the name given to the archipelago by Spanish explorers. The word galapago translates to tortoise in Spanish.
The tortoises on the island are amazing. Males can live approximately 200 years and weigh up to and around the 600-pound mark. While females can reach ages of 150 years and weights of around 200 pounds. Together, these tortoises dominate the attention of most tourists as well as the local governments. This results in many different opportunities for viewing tortoises in nature as well as at the Charles Darwin Research Station. Today, the Galapagos Islands and the government of Ecuador are actively working to maintain the level of pristine nature that Darwin wrote about back to the 1830s.
Plan Your Trip Soon
The Ecuadorian government is very strict with how people may visit the islands but for good reason. After all, the archipelago is home to some 181 species of native animals and more than 500 indigenous plant species. It’s a fragile ecosystem that is becoming more popular as it becomes more accessible. So, before tourism overwhelms this Pacific marvel, start planning your adventure to the Galapagos. Like we said, buy the ticket and take the trip.
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