A modern-day traveler’s rules of thumb: Visit the most fragile places first; stay on the trails; disturb nothing. Nowhere does this apply more than to the 58 islands and cays of the Galapagos archipelago, which straddle the equator 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. They were essentially unknown until Charles Darwin’s arrival in 1835. It was here that he first developed hid theory of evolution, using as evidence an amazing roster of wildlife that thrived on these islands, each remarkably individual in its topography, flora, and fauna. They are still home to the greatest proportion of endemic species in the world. The one most associated with the area is the 400-pound land tortoise, whose shell resembles a riding saddle, known to the early Spaniards as galapago – thus their name for the archipelago. Marine iguanas (the only lizard in the world that lives in the ocean), blue-footed boobies, and 13 species of finches are also peculiar to those volcanic islands. In their isolation from predators, the animals of the Galapagos have no instinctive fear of man – their curiosity may surpass you own.
The Galapagos Islands are as stunning underwater as above. Declared UNESCO’s first Natural World Heritage Site in 1978 and then a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1984, they host an astonishing variety of marine life: Scuba divers will see the hemisphere’s northernmost population of penguins (thanks to the cooling Humboldt Current), sea lions, fur seals, dolphins, and even the odd migrating whale. Some fully equipped live-aboards head for the remote and uninhabited islands of wolf and Darwin, where you can expect to be surrounded by enormous schools of hammerhead and manta rays, for which the Galapagos are famous.
The most popular way to visit the islands is by boat; you can choose among more than 80 options carrying 12 to 100 passengers each. Landlubbers can stay in one of a clutch of very comfortable resorts, such as the Royal Palm Hotel, occupying a 400-acre site on Santa Cruz; of the 18 main islands, it is one of the largest (380 square miles) and is the most populated. The resort’s private boat takes guests on wildlife-viewing day trips, delivering them back in time for a spa treatment followed by a candlelight dinner. Santa Cruz is also the site of the Darwin Research Station, which many giant tortoises call home.
WHERE: 618 miles/966 km west of Guayaquil.
BEST TIME: mid-Apr – Jun and Sep – Dec for nicest weather and fewest crowds.
EXPERIENCE: this through Experiential Travel Journeys. Please Call us or Email us.