Where: Galapagos Islands, Pacific Ocean.
Wildlife: Flamingos, sea lions, iguana, red footed boobies, penguins, turtles.
Top Sight: Possibly the only on land sighting of the Waved Albatross bird
Remember to: Never touch any of the animals and take care to protect the delicate ecology
The Galapagos Islands, 700 miles of the western coast of Ecuador, are one of the world’s great natural wonders. If you are looking for something unique and memorable in Ecuador it doesn’t get much better than this. Ecuador’s most popular national park boasts scenic volcanic vistas and extraordinary wildlife attracting 60,000 visitors a year.
The most famous visitor was of course Charles Darwin who used this island chain as the inspiration for his theory of evolution. The Research Station is on Santa Cruz, the second largest island, can be easily reached from Puerto Ayora, the Island’s main town. The town is also a good place to rest up whilst planning your ecological extravaganza, meet other travellers and hire boats for day or week trips around the islands.
The volcanic archipelago is home to many species, some endemic to the islands, and the absence of any natural predators means that its inhabitants are relatively fearless of humans and therefore there are many opportunities to get very close to the wildlife.
The abundance of wildlife in the archipelago spreads over 13 major islands, with a further 48 smaller islands and rocky outcrops. Some of the islands are a nights sailing away so a week is preferable stay if your budget allows. Highlights might include spotting iguana, sea lions, cactus forests and excellent snorkelling on South Plaza, climbing the summit of Bartolomeand watching the penguins at Pinnacle rock, Flamingos on Rabida or Red-footed boobieson Genovesa. Espanola is just about the only place on the planet that you will get to see Waved Albatross on land, which spend most of their lives at sea. Snorkelling with the sea lions in one of the many bays will be a memorable encounter.
Because of the delicate ecology here, rules are strict. Guides are required in nearly all areas of the islands and paths must be followed. Above all the visitors are asked not to touch the animals; they on the other hand can touch you.
All of this flora and fauna does not come cheap. Anyone planning a trip here should bank on spending between $50-100 a day for boat hire, $80 park entrance, and flights from the mainland. Everything else is more expensive here than in mainland Ecuador, Boats will take you to the islands but most people fly from Quito. Expect to pay upwards of $300-400 a day depending on season.
Research and nature information from the Darwin centre on their protection of endangered species
A travel guide to galapagos tours, boats, cruises & yacht charters