This is definitely one of the most recurrent destinations in travelers’ bucket-lists, especially for those who love nature. The natural wildlife on these islands simply has no comparison and is really well suited for having extraordinary up-close encounters with some fascinating species, both in the water, as on land.
The Galapagos Islands are an archipelago of volcanic origin located approx. 1,000km to the west of continental Ecuador. There are 18 main islands and many smaller ones scattered about. They served as inspiration for Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and are now a National Park and Marine Reserve. Also, in 1987 they got listed as World Heritage (UNESCO).
The best way to explore Galapagos is by boat and there are many different itineraries and boat types, depending on the time you’ll be staying and what you would like to see. The islands are all very different and boast their own special landscape and wildlife, so it is a good idea to research a bit on each of them before deciding. Some say Isabela island is the most beautiful, others claim that Espindola is the most magical… so it really is a matter of personal taste. Luckily, ¡they are all amazing in their own right!
In any case, your Galapagos trip will revolve around the wildlife, which you can discover by diving, snorkeling, hiking, kayaking or on board one of the many vessels you will get on while you are there. Many species on the islands are endemic –unique to Galapagos. Here is a little preview of what you might see:
- A diverse array of birds: the very popular blue-footed boobies, albatross (at Punta Espinosa in Espindola), penguins (around Tagus Cove, on Isabela island), and the Darwin’s finch, among others.
- Marine iguanas! These are a Galapagos icon so you must see them. The largest colony is at Fernandina, but you can also see them during the Bay tour at Santa Cruz. During your hikes you can also spot numerous lava lizards.
- Marine wildlife to spare: hammerhead sharks, blue sharks, eagle rays, whales, sea lions, Galapagos crabs –zayapas-, gigantic sea tortoises and an endless array of fish types. If you want to make the most out of your marine wildlife experience, ask for the diving tours… mostly to dive spots on Wolf and Darwin Islands.
- Giant land tortoises, at the various breeding centers, like the ones at Santa Cruz, San Cristobal or Isabela Islands, where you can get up-close with these prehistoric creatures.
- The opuntia cactus –endemic to the islands-, chandelier cacti and other local flora.
Finally, a few tips for you to have the ultimate Galapagos experience:
- What to pack: waterproof camera or dry bag, binoculars, swimsuit, swim mask and fins (tours usually provide these, but if you have your own, take them anyway!), sun hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, a long-sleeved shirt with UPF, refillable water bottle, a rain jacket and good hiking shoes (as well as flip flops).
- Bring motion sickness medication for your boat tours.
- Visit the Darwin Scientific Station at Puerto Ayora, ideally when there is a guided tour.
- Dine at the “Calle de los Kioskos” in Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz Island). Pick your fish (brujo is very popular) or lobster (make sure it’s not ban season), and enjoy! This street is also a feast of flavors and colors.
- Before leaving home, fill out the pre-registration in the Galapagos Government website. And before boarding your flight to Galapagos go get your TCT card at the Galapagos Government counter in the airport (Guayaquil or Quito), paying $10. This is where filling the pre-registration form comes in handy.
- Upon arrival in the Galapagos airport, you will have to pay the entrance fee to the National Park ($100). This is usually not included in the tours’ prices.
Find the best Galapagos cruise and tour packages: