The Galapagos Islands are UNESCO World Heritage-listed (in fact it was the first site to be listed as a world heritage site back in 1978). These islands are famous for their utterly stunning diversity and range of endemic species to these islands. Consequently, they are heavily protected and are a very sought-after destination for wildlife enthusiasts. They are part of Ecuador (be sure to try the diverse Ecuadorian food while there). It was here that Charles Darwin had the inspiration for writing his seminal work - The Origin Of The Species.
Much of the island's richness is due to the convergence of three major ocean currents. These serve to bring an incredible mixture of marine life to the Galapagos.
Galapagos Islands: The Facts
- Population: 25,000
- Archipeligo: 19 Islands (13 Large, 6 Small)
- Where: 600 Miles Off The Coast Of Ecuador
Ecuadorian government does permit tourism but this is all very tightly controlled. There are only 116 visit sites on all the islands. These include 54 land sites and 62 scuba-diving or snorkeling sites. All tour groups must be accompanied by a licensed guide to ensure minimal impact on this fragile environment. So while here, don't expect to be free able to move, see and do whatever you want. Tourism is carefully managed and protecting the environment is paramount.
You can visit the islands year-round. As these are tropical islands there is no winter and or summer season, instead, it is warm year-round. The only thing is that there are rains between July to November, however, these are not enough to be much of a limitation. Additionally, different animals are exhibiting different behavior at different times of the year.
Flying To The Islands
There are daily flights to two of the islands from Ecuador - one on Baltra Island and the other on San Cristobal. There are three airlines offering flights namely TAME, LAN-Ecuador and Avianca.
- Cost Of Round Trip Ticket: Between $380 and $500
- Tip: Tourists Must Buy A Round Trip Ticket
- Entrance Fee: $100 (In Cash) To The Galapagos National Park
Like other islands and island nations (like New Zealand and Australia), customs and biosecurity are very strict. So you will need to declare anything considered to be a biohazard to the islands.
There are four main activities on the islands; trekking, scuba diving, kayaking, and snorkeling. The most popular is of course trekking the unique animals of the Galapagos. But diving is also very rewarding and is one of the best locations in the world. Here you can see marine iguanas, mantas, marine turtles, rays, sea lions, many kinds of sharks, fur seals, and fish living in the reefs all feeding in its archipelagos rich waters.
Wildlife On The Islands
The main attraction here is the wildlife. Some of the most noteworthy include:
- Iguanas: Including the Galapagos land iguanas and Marine iguana
- Blue-foot booby: Famous For Their Large Blue Feet
- Galapagos Penguin: The Only Tropical Penguin And Only Penguin North Of The Equator
- Waved Albatross: The Only Tropical Albatross
- Galapagos Tortoise: The Famous Giant Tortoise
Other notable species include the Galapagos Green Turtle, the Galapagos racer (snake), the Flightless cormorant, the Galapagos hawk the Great frigatebird, the magnificent frigatebird, the Galapagos sea lions, and Darwin's finches - the thirteen endemic species of tanagers.
There are a number of tour companies offering a range of tours and experiences on these islands. Two of the most popular are:
Multisport Adventures: Includes hiking, kayaking, and snorkeling 6/7 days From $3,158.
Galapagos Full Pack: 8/7 Nights From $2,342
The most popular tour company for the Galapagos that can arrange full tour packages is Galapagos Islands.com. This tour company offers just about any tour that is permissible on the islands and will arrange all your travel and your accommodation.
Touring the Galapagos by cruise ship is another popular way to visit the islands. There are four categories of cruises: economy, tourist, first-class, and luxury cruises. If you are thinking of visiting the islands with a group of 12 or more, then you might consider chartering your own boat. The boats here range from 12-110 passengers.
Ninety-five percent of the land in the Galapagos is protected by the Galapagos National Park Directorate (there is also a permanent population so they can't protect all of it). When exploring the islands, visitors can only explore specific sites with certified guides. These visitor sites have marked trails (most are short - less than a mile long) and these trails often pass over lava fields or boulders.
Fun Fact: The 2003 Movie Master And Commander Was Filmed On These Islands
In the past, these islands were the scene of geopolitical struggles between Japan, America, Germany, Chile, and Ecuador. These countries all wanted to establish military bases here - with America wanting to buy the islands in order to guard the Panama Canal. Fortunately, the islands were never sold and destructive military bases were not established on the islands.
In short, visiting the Galapagos Islands is one of the wildlife adventures of a lifetime. Just don't expect it to be cheap or to have free range while there.