Start Your Adventure in The Galapagos Islands: 4 Experiences You Shouldn’t Miss
Located 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands stand out as one of those bucket-list destinations that can change the way you think about nature, culture, and travel. An incursion into the island’s travel opportunities is completely different from what Europe or Northern America has to offer, but once you step foot on these enchanted islands, you definitely won’t going off the beaten path. From the incredible biodiversity to the awe-inspiring lush vegetation and the friendly locals, the Galapagos has a little something for each type of tourist, so get ready to embark on the trip of a lifetime.
If you don’t know where to start, here are a few ideas to inspire you on your journey.
1. Explore an ecosystem like no other
Before the early 1800s, the Galapagos islands were an unspoiled paradise that very few explorers happened to stumble upon. But then a famous visitor by the name of Charles Darwin, hearing stories about the incredible biodiversity of this place and decided to set sail to see it for himself. Impressed by the richness of the local flora and fauna, Darwin spent 19 days studying the island and published what would become his most famous work, On the Origin of Species in 1859. The book not only introduced the theory of evolution but also drew attention to the many species of animals and plants native to the island.
Whether you’re an environmental advocate, you love animals, or you’re just a regular tourist passing through, you may be moved to tears by the diversity and uniqueness of the islands’ ecosystem. Almost all the reptiles, birds, and land mammals you see here are unique to the area, such as the Galapagos Giant Tortoise, the Magnificent Frigate Bird, the Galapagos Sea Lion, and the Galapagos Penguin. So, if you’re looking for something that you truly can’t find anywhere else, the Galapagos won’t disappoint.
The natural habitats of the animals are as diverse as the species themselves. Even if many people imagine that the Galapagos is a lush, green paradise like many others, once you step foot on the island, you’ll be surprised to see rocky terrain, volcanic lands, tropical forests, and serene beaches. In fact, it’s this harshness of the land (dubbed “The Laboratory of Evolution”) that made the local fauna evolve and develop specific features to survive.
2. Go on a Galapagos cruise
One of the biggest decisions you’ll have to make when booking your Galapagos trip is whether you want to explore it by land or by sea. If for most vacations the default option is booking accommodation at a hotel or local lodge, the Galapagos is actually one of those destinations that are best explored by sea, so you’ll want to book a spot on a yacht instead. And there’s more than one reason for that. First of all, newer ships, like the Galapagos Infinity Yacht, offer luxurious accommodation standards, so that you can enjoy fantastic views and spend your vacation in style. If you’re visiting the Galapagos on your honeymoon, or for a special event such as an anniversary, this is the smoothest, most stress-free way to do it.
Secondly, since a great part of the land is uninhabited, there aren’t too many hotels to choose from and unless you plan your trip very early on, you might find most rooms to be unavailable or too expensive. Meanwhile, a yacht cruise includes accommodation, dining, and bilingual guides, so you don’t have to worry about anything.
Most cruise operators offer special itineraries that include the island’s main attractions and tourist activities, so you can make your pick depending on your interests and duration of your stay (typically from four to eight days). And don’t worry, all routes are approved by Galápagos National Park officials so they don’t harm the natural balance of the land.
3. Hike the Sierra Negra volcano
Commercial space travel isn’t available just yet, but until humanity finds a way to explore other planets, the edge of the Sierra Negra volcano on Isla Isabela is as close as you can get to an eerie, otherworldly landscape. The second-largest crater in the world and the only active volcano that tourists are allowed to hike is actually not that physically demanding compared to other routes. The 10.5-mile hike takes about 5-6 hours to complete, the incline is gradual, and apart from the occasional light rain or Ecuadorian sun, it doesn’t pose too many difficulties. Just make sure you pack a raincoat, plenty of water, and SPF.
If the thought of an active volcano makes you picture an empty, lifeless land, think again. Life on the Galapagos Islands has learned to adapt and you’ll witness the same impressive ecosystem. The first part of the hike is surprisingly lush and even when you reach the top, you’ll see small patches of vegetation growing through the volcanic rock.
4. Go snorkeling
Marine life in the Galapagos is just as impressive as land life and snorkeling is the best way to explore it. The islands have many great spots for snorkeling and you’ll be happy to meet some friendly companions while you’re at it. For example, Chinese Hat islet is a nice place for spotting sea lions, white-tip reef sharks, and Green Sea turtles. Then you have the famous Punta Espinosa, where you can swim with marine iguanas and Galapagos dolphins, spot humpback whales, and marvel at orcas. If you want to interact more closely with the marine animals, check out Isla Lobos. The sea lions here are very friendly and you’ll even notice how they sneak behind snorkelers and blow bubbles in their faces! Don’t worry about the beaches becoming too busy though. The number of tourists that can visit the Galapagos at a time is restricted to maintain the natural balance of the ecosystem and this means that you’ll be able to avoid crowds and enjoy some much-deserved privacy.