The Galapagos Islands have attained a legendary status in many peoples imaginations. The rocky, moonlike islands famously described by Charles Darwin lie almost 1000 kilometres west of the coast of Ecuador.
The archipelago comprises 13 larger and 6 smaller volcanic islands whose population of unique wildlife have made them famous. The islands and the area around them are national parks and are carefully managed and protected. Some of the more famous inhabitants include the Giant Galapagos Tortoises, large numbers of Sea Lions, many species of birds, penguins and of course the huge Iguanas. Many will be surprised to learn that there are also around 25,000 people who live on the islands and also a number of hotels for tourists.
Visiting the islands is usually undertaken by catching a flight from either Quito or Guayaquil, of which there are plenty, generally leaving in the morning and returning in the evening. Flights land on the central island of Santa Cruz and from there the best option to see the wildlife is to take a boat cruise around some of the islands. The boats get full in the busy seasons so be sure to book in advance before travelling, usually back on mainland Ecuador is sufficient and also cheaper than booking from your home country. Also watch out for the cheaper options as they may be overcrowded and only travel to the inner islands.
Travelling around the islands there are limited and tightly controlled opportunities to stop off and walk around amongst the animals. All visitors must be accompanied by a certified guide, but don’t let any of this put you off, the guides are knowledgable and the animals seem almost oblivious to the tourists, not through familiarity, but the lack of any exposure to people in their evolution. Often Iguana’s and tortoises will be resting on the path or immediately adjacent to them. Although the animals are by far the highlight the barren rocky landscapes of the islands do hold a certain appeal as well – but don’t expect tropical paradise or you may be disappointed.