You’ve heard the stories about the untouched natural beauty of the Galapagos Islands, but once you set foot on this archipelago – a once uncharted region that sparked naturalist Charles Darwin’s evolution theory – the reality of those travel tales become as real as coal-black marine iguanas shuffle below the jetty and magnificent frigatebirds glide over the bay. Yep, you have arrived in a place where communing with nature is not just a metaphor… it’s true and you are about to embark on a travel experience you won’t soon forget.
Everyone knows the Galapagos as a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ vacation, and that these much-mythologized islands are a wildlife wonderland. But no one tells you the backdrop is also remarkable: smooth, low islands, dotted by lime-green forests, with red-sloped volcanoes at their hearts and black beaches on their fringes.
WHEN TO GO
The Galapagos is a year-round destination. December through May are warmest – good for snorkeling – but some rain is likely. From June to November, the island’s weather is cooler, and this is when penguins are more commonly spotted. The peak tourist season runs from mid-June through early September and from mid-December through mid-January.
You can’t possibly make a trip to the Galapagos Islands without checking out its ingenious wildlife and more! Here’s a quick list of what you should see before you leave.
Galapagos Penguin: The only penguin that lives north of the equator in the path of the cool Humboldt Current.
Galapagos Mockingbird: This gregarious bird is more predatory than most. It feeds on lava lizard eggs among other things.
Flightless Cormorant: Found on Fernandina and Isabela, this bird never evolved to have wings because it had no natural predators… so we’ve been told.
Lava Lizard: Nine of the 22 species are endemic to the islands. Their gray scales with a subtle red flare is ideal for blending in with the volcanic backdrop.
Darwin’s Finches: There are 15 species all with different sized and shaped beaks, which is believed to have been a natural adaption to indigenous food.
Galapagos Giant Tortoise: The world’s largest tortoise is able to live for up to 170 years. We think its slow eating habits might have something to do with that.
Blue-Footed Booby: This bird is a sight to see as it takes a quick dive in the archipelago’s water to catch its prey. The mating dance of the blue-footed male bird to court his female counterpart is another fun sight to behold.
THE BACK STORY
Because the whole archipelago of 14 main islands and many smaller islets and rocks is a national park, there are tight restrictions on where tourists can go. Non-specialist visitors only have access to around 1 percent of the landmass.
In fact, cruise ships in the Galapagos vary their routes and stagger landings to avoid too many people being in one place at any one time. At each island, you can tick off an iconic species from your must-see list, such as the marine iguana and giant tortoise, flightless cormorant, blue-footed boobies and little penguins.
The whole archipelago is volcanic, the beaches often black and spiky, with the youngest of the islands, Fernandina, a mere 700,000 years old.
It’s no surprise, but the word ‘lava’ figures prominently in the names of Galapagos species such as the smoky-gray lava gull and lava cactus. The whole archipelago is volcanic, the beaches often black and spiky, with the youngest of the islands, Fernandina, a mere 700,000 years old.
Take a charter boat ride around the tranquil mangroves of Black Turtle Cove, where manta rays swim beside the boat and lava heron hop around on the branches of trees that dot the shores of the islands along the way.
Yep, nature teems and makes you dizzy in the Galapagos. You could easily begin to take it all for granted. Thankfully, responsible tourism remains an essential means of protecting this unique and unforgettable paradise.