The Galapagos Islands are considered to be the home to what’s considered among the world’s most diverse flora and fauna, as well as unique species of wildlife. While any adventure travel to Latin America would likely be an unforgettable experience, if you have the budget you shouldn’t miss heading out to the Galapagos Islands.
Photo By: Paul Krawczuk
About the Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands are part of Ecuador but located off the west coast of South America, about 1000 kilometers out in the Pacific Ocean. The group of islands are made up of about 20 bigger islands and some smaller isles. Visiting the Galapagos Islands is not cheap. Flights to the archipelago from the mainland depart from Quito and Guayaquil to either San Cristobal and Baltra. The alternative is to visit with a private charter boat or on one of the larger catamarans. Once there, there are inter-island flights between some of the islands, although the other way to get between the islands is by boat, and this is likely to be the better option for tourists who want to see more of the archipelago.
All tourists must be accompanied by an official guide, and when venturing out in to the Galapagos National Park and the Galapagos Marine Reserve you must stay within the marked areas to protect the special habitat. December to May is the peak tourist season, when the seas are calm and the weather is at its warmest; although each month there are unique things to see at the Galapagos Islands.
You might be surprised that people actually live on the Galapagos Islands with some 25,000 inhabitants. The main islands include: Baltra Island, Bartolome Island, Darwin Island, Genovesa Island, Isabela Island, North Seymour Island, Santa Cruz Island and San Cristobal Island.
There is accommodation on San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Floreana and Isabela with prices varying steeply.
What to See in the Galapagos Islands
The number 1 reason to go to the Galapagos Islands is what you can see there. The Galapagos Islands are famous for the species that are unique to this chain of islands – the islands are so famed that even Charles Darwin visited and his studies contributed to his theories on evolution and natural selection!
At the Galapagos Islands see many wonderful wilderness sights from giant tortoises, sea lions, penguins, marine iguanas and different bird species to even the volcanic natural landscape, which might be less luscious than you’d expect but still beautiful. Also, see the red neck sacks of the Magnificent Frigatebird and hope to stumble across a Land Iguana, a Marine Iguana, some colourful crabs, or the sweet blue footed boobies (pictured below). There are rules associated with visiting the Galapagos National Park, which should be followed at all times to protect the natural habitat.
What to Do in the Galapagos Islands
The World Heritage Listed Galapagos Islands offer things to “do” as well. Scuba diving is one of the most popular adventure sports on the Galapagos Islands, particularly July to November when whale sharks come to the area. The diving at the Galapagos Islands is considered some of the world’s best scuba diving particularly in terms of the quality of the natural environment. Diving here is probably best done by people with at least intermediate experience because cold water temperatures, strong currents, sometimes low visibility and dive depths can make it more challenging. If you’re a beginner wanting to dive Galapagos get plenty of practice dives before you arrive. All in all there are dozens of different scuba and snorkelling sites to enjoy.
While many of the tour operators will include diving as an option, if you want to go to some of the top dive destinations at Darwin Island and Wolf Island you will likely need to go on a separate live-aboard. One of the highlights here would be the chance to see schools of Hammerhead Sharks.
If you prefer land-based activities why not hire a bike, and cruise around some of the islands on two wheels. There are hiking opportunities too for instance to Wall of Tears on Isabela and Cerro Tijeras on San Cristobal. Don’t forget to climb the hill at Bartolome Island for a fabulous view, walk the Tortuga Bay path and stop by the lava rocks there, take in the view of Darwin’s Arch, and hike up Prince Philip’s steps on Genovesa Island.
Cruising between the islands and seeing some of the more remote islands that make up the Galapagos chain is another exciting thing to do. There are usually options for everything from luxury yachts to catamarans, but it’s best to plan your trip in advance, as spots might be limited once you’re out there.
You might be surprised that you can also go surfing at the Galapagos Islands. There are world class surfing spots at San Cristobal Island, and the ideal “surf season” is from December until May. Other adventure sports you can try here include kayaking and horse back riding.
One final word on what you can “do” on the Galapagos Islands. We have to mention conservation-based volunteering or so-called “voluntourism.” The Charles Darwin Foundation takes on volunteers with the relevant experience for its scientific program, the National Park takes on volunteers to help run the park, while other groups take on volunteers for their community development, native species reforestation programs and research projects.