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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrIt’s quite amazing to realize that what was once regarded as an arid, inhospitable place is, in fact, one of our planet’s most stupendous natural treasures. Granted, pirates were never renowned for their appreciation of flora and fauna, but modern pirates, the ones who come aboard luxury sailing yachts, are a different story.
The Ecuadorian archipelago of the Galapagos float about 1,000km off South America’s west coast and comprises 19 islands, all home to some of the most unique creatures on earth. Their evolution, through millennia, is what first stemmed the idea of natural selection in the mind of naturalist Charles Darwin and led him to concoct his now famous Theory of Evolution . The most adaptable animals are the ones with the highest chance of survival, or so it would seem.
This UNESCO-listed heritage site is the epitome destination for nature lovers and the primary reason why visitors flock to Ecuador every year. Spend a week aboard a sailing vessel, meandering your way through these volcanic isles, and discovering the incredible wildlife which inhabits then, and you’ll never see our planet quite the same way again.
What There is to See and DoOut of all the islands which make up the Galapagos, only a select few are inhabited, and even fewer allow visitors. The isles are of volcanic origin and most can indeed appear barren, deprived of life and void of livable conditions. This is the primary reason for the thriving wildlife population. Aside a little stint of human-habitation which actually caused quite some havoc (even Charles Darwin managed to unwittingly ‘eat’ the last specimens of a particular giant turtle), the animals here have remained, for the most part, completely undisturbed.
Over the years the animals evolved certain traits, like the cormorant that can’t fly, the turtles from one island who can only mate with those of the same island, and the seals who are so unafraid of humans they’ll frolic with snorkelers in the chilly surf. Come here, and you’ll be face to face with marine iguanas, giant turtles, blue and red footed boobies, cormorants, albatrosses and about 1001 other specimens of land and sea animals. Sail the high seas by night, and spend your days hiking on some of the most dramatic looking islands in the world.
This, and more, is what awaits you on the Galapagos Islands.
Cruising the GalapagosThe only way to see the Galapagos in any depth is by boat and, due to the distances between them, on multi-day sailing trips. There are a select number of boats allowed in this national marine park, and a very restricted number of visitors allowed in the area at any given time. Although itineraries are about identical, no matter who you go with, do keep in mind that you will be spending most of your time aboard, so it pays to be in a boat whose comfort level fits with yours. By and large, it pays to choose a smaller vessel (max 12 passengers) rather than one of the larger cruise ships which can carry infinitely more people (up to 100). Although the larger boats offer more services, space and evening entertainment, they also take an immense amount of time to embark/disembark and this can get very frustrating after just two days. If your priority is wildlife and nature, than always opt for a smaller boat. Do also note that some of the larger liners are not allowed to dock on some of the smaller isles, so this is something else worth keeping in mind.
Snorkeling and SCUBA divingThe biggest deciding factor, as to which boat you should choose, will come down to their inclusion of snorkeling and diving trips. There are plenty of live-aboard boats which offer nothing but diving, and even more vessels which manage to combine these activities with hikes on islands. Choose your preferred one. Daily diving trips are also offered from the main island (the one you’ll arrive into) Santa Cruz, as well as Isabela and San Cristobal. Hammerhead sharks, giant mantas, tuna, sea turtles, sting rays and more is what you’ll see underwater. This is one of the world’s best dive sites and one of the few where snorkeling is just as rewarding as diving.
Surfing and SunbathingThere are a few islands which are ideal surfing and sunbathing destinations, so if you want to hang around Santa Cruz for a few days after your cruise, you’ll have the chance to stretch out your island getaway a little longer. Tortuga Bay and Playa Ratonera are excellent spots on Santa Cruz, as is Punta Carola on San Cristobal.
Best Time to GoThere’s really never a bad time to see the Galapagos however, generally speaking, the Christmas period and European summer (June to September) are considered high seasons. This is mostly due to the foreign holiday periods, however, and are not a reflection of the islands’ seasons. This is the equator, a spot where nothing much changes here over a year.
Insider TipsThe Galapagos Islands may be renowned as one of the world’s most incredible places to visit, but are also one of the most expensive. In terms of ‘natural destinations’, visiting here can be as expensive as cruising down to Antarctica. But it need not be so.
The greater majority of visitors tend to book months if not years in advance, considering this a bucket-list vacation which needs eons to prepare. But fact is, if you are travelling to South America, and are going to include Ecuador, you can simply wait until you arrive in either Quito or Guayaquil, and then await an available spot on a boat. Much like in Ushuaia, where vessels leave for Antarctica, boats are not keen to leave with empty beds, so will discount their last spots to a mere fraction of their original price. Have time and patience on your trip to South America? This is how you score an unforgettable adventure for the price of a one-week vacation in Thailand. Contact a travel agency once in-country and look for last-minute deals.
How to Reach the GalapagosThe islands are about an hour’s flight off the coast of Ecuador and reached by short plane ride from either Quito or Guayaquil. Arrivals are hit with a $ 100 USD National Park entry fee upon arrival and daily flight numbers are limited, so if you are restricted in time availability, do book your trip in advance.
AccommodationA wide range of accommodation is available on four islands on the Galapagos. These range from backpacker hostels to splendid, 5* sanctuaries. Prices range from $ 20 USD to $ 300 USD a night.
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Author: Laura Pattara. Last updated: Jun 15, 2015