Off-the-radar and perfectly remote, the Galapagos Islands are a treasure trove of nature, wildlife, natural history, and beauty. As human presence has remained minimal, the land and sea are in their purest, most untouched form, and life has flourished accordingly. The Galapagos offers one of the world's most extraordinary showcases of the natural world and is a testament to what nature can do when left to do what it does best. It's thought that the Islands have never connected to any continent, and were in fact formed by underwater volcanoes that continue to construct, shape, and change their structures and environments - even today.
In 1835 it took Charles Darwin just five weeks - and only 19 days on land - to take in the Galapagos and its wonders, and to form the evolutionary ideas and basis for The Origin of Species. Famously, he called the islands “a little world within itself", and it's easy to see why; unaffected, pristine and tucked away from the outside world, this magnificent archipelago is an ecosystem like no other, where the rich underwater world bustles, sea lions laze on the beaches, giant tortoises live forever, and the same spectacle of rare, endemic fauna and flora that inspired Darwin, thrives en mass.
The following incredible Instagram shots can only give a mere glimpse into the unique world of the Galapagos, and can only do them so much justice. But what they certainly show, however, is that this magical destination is worthy of the most discerning travelers' bucket list - and quite rightfully so.
8 Friendly Sea Lions Galore
One of the most intriguing animals to observe in the Galapagos is the Galapagos sea lion. They primarily breed in the Galapagos Islands, although a few breeding colonies also reside on Isla de la Plata, which is just off of mainland Ecuador. The males, or "Bulls" weigh about 550 pounds on average, but the biggest of the boys can in fact reach up to 900 pounds. In contrast, females weigh around 200 pounds, though some can grow up to 250 pounds.
Extraordinarily, many scuba divers and snorkelers in the Galapagos report encounters with these curious creatures, who often get up and close and seemingly have no fear of humans. They're often spotted lounging on the powdery white beaches without a care in the world too, posing for the camera and letting visitors get up close for a picture.
There aren't many places on the planet where people can enjoy such an intimate experience with this friendly mammal, but the Galapagos is certainly one of them, which is all the more reason to add these islands to the bucket list.
7 Swim With Huge Schools Of Hammerhead Sharks
What could be more surreal than coming face to face with a friendly sea lion? Perhaps swimming alongside a massive school of scalloped hammerhead sharks is a good answer to that question. Not to be feared, this species is calm and not at all dangerous, and is often a highlight on any diver's to-see list underwater.
The Galapagos is one of the most reliable spots on Earth to witness these majestic sharks, and they're particularly more numerous at the northern islands of Darwin and Wolf, and sometimes, Kicker Rock. Chances of spotting hammerheads are good year-round in the Galapagos Marine Reserve, however, their numbers are higher in January, whilst they're less abundant in May.
6 Come Face To Face With One Of The Longest-Living Species On Earth
The Galapagos giant tortoise - after which the islands are named (Galapágo is the old Spanish word for tortoise) - is the archipelago's signature species, and is one of the longest-living creatures in the world. The tortoise's life expectancy is thought to be over 100 years in the wild, but the oldest known specimen - Harriet, who lived in Australia Zoo - was estimated to be 188 years old when she died in 2006.
Who knows how they live so long - perhaps it's their healthy diet of grass, fruits, and cactus pads combined with resting for 16 hours per day that keeps them youthful and spritely for such an extended period of time. In any case, to encounter this death-defying critter, the Santa Cruz highlands' El Chato Nature Reserve and Alcedo Volcano on Isabela are great spots from which to start, where they host the largest populations of giant tortoises. They're present year-round, but they are seen more commonly around midday during the cool season, and in the early morning or late afternoon throughout the hot season.
5 Behold Bounties Of Beautiful Birds
The Galapagos Islands are also a particular paradise for bird watchers; they're home to around 200 diverse species of rare bird, including Hood Mockingbirds, Swallow-tail Gulls, the Galapagos Penguin, the Galapagos Dove, Geospiza, Lava Heron, Waved Albatross, Frigate birds, several species of finches and boobies, and so many more that it's virtually impossible to list them all.
Many of the islands' fascinating bird species are endangered, incredibly rare, and endemic to the Galapagos, making the archipelago one of the top destinations on Earth for hardcore bird watchers seeking out super special sights. Interestingly, the Galapagos are also the only place on the planet where both penguins and flamingos can be spotted together - a rather bizarre sight to see in the natural world.
4 Get Up And Close With The Mighty Marine Iguana
The dinosaur-esque marine iguana is truly something to behold; it's the only lizard on the planet that can live and forage at sea and is a species endemic to the Galapagos. It can't breathe underwater, but it is amazingly able to hold its breath for up to 60 minutes. The species can also dive to around 65 feet (or 20 meters) underwater, and some swimmers and divers even encounter them at depth whilst exploring the Galapagos Islands' rich reefs.
People can see wild marine iguanas at many places all over the islands, but Las Tintoreras on Puerto Villamil is one of the best spots to find them. At just a 10-minute boat ride from the Island of Isabella, it's home to hundreds, even thousands of them, thus making for once-in-a-lifetime memories scoping out this magnificent creature - for which bringing a camera is an absolute must.
3 Enjoy Some Of The Most Untouched, Wildlife-Riddled Beaches On The Planet
Up-close-and-personal meetings with the Galapagos Islands' wildlife is a lifetime experience, and lots of rare and fascinating species can be spotted on many of the pristine beaches. Completely of the beaten track, and visitor numbers being strictly controlled, the beaches in the archipelago are nothing like those in popular beach destinations, like the Caribbean, Bali, Ibiza, or Thailand - they're in fact a world apart and offer an otherworldly, back-to-nature feel.
There are usually more animals than people lounging on the beaches, which are laidback, tranquil, undeveloped, and best of all, free of crowds. Some of the best beaches worthy of one's bucket list in the Galapagos include Gardner Bay on the island's east side, Suarez Point, and Osborn Islet - which is an idyllic haven for swimmers and snorkelers.
2 Watch Sea Turtles Laying Eggs At Tortuga Bay
Tortuga's sugar soft white sands and turquoise ocean are certainly special, along with the myriads of interesting bird species to observe in the area. Just a short walk from the town, this paradisal seaside spot also rewards travelers with fantastic surfing waves, and water prime for kayaking. But the real treasure here is the possibility of watching sea turtles lay eggs.
Lucky visitors can spot turtles coming shore to lay eggs, which is definitely a life-changing experience to many a traveler. Only witnessed by a handful of people around the world every year, turtles' egg-laying is a spectacular and rare sight only granted to the most fortunate folk who venture to the most pristine shores - like those on the Galapagos Islands.
1 Kayak Some Of The World's Most Pristine Coastline Teeming With Life
Kayaking in the Galapagos Islands is one of the most unique ways to explore the rugged coastlines, secluded bays, and remote beaches. It allows travelers to enjoy an entirely different perspective when flowing along the shoreline at such a low level. What makes it such a surreal experience is not just the fun kayaking factor - it's the lack of a loud, noisy motor, which means paddlers can get up close to wildlife without disturbing anything. Overall, anyone who wants to enjoy close encounters with sea lions, Galapagos penguins, nesting sea birds, and a wealth of marine species below will be in their element when kayaking through the Galapagos Islands' pristine waters.