From Charles Darwin, who developed his theory of natural selection here, to the modern-day explorers of our times, it is with good reason that the Galapagos Islands are firmly planted at the top of many an adventurer’s bucket list.
Located just off the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos archipelago is a bonafide wild and unadulterated adventure-land. Although their location may be remote, all 20 islands are brimming with an abundance of wildlife that can’t be found anywhere else in the world and a flourishingly rich ecosystem both above and below water.
Lava tunnels, sinkholes, lakes and secluded beaches are just a handful of the unique experiences found on the Galapagos. Other than its sheer natural beauty, the Galapagos Islands host an incredible array of diverse species of animals. On San Cristobal Island, you’ll find more sea lions than people. Hammerhead sharks and manta rays roam freely in the pristine dive sites of Santa Cruz. Not to mention the blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas and penguins that scatter the Galapagos archipelago.
If you can feel the explorer inside of you stirring, keep reading, for adventure beckons, and it has the Galapagos written all over it.
Travel Requirements and Getting to the Galapagos Islands
Situated roughly 900 kilometres off the Pacific Coast of Ecuador, most visitors arrive from a two-hour direct flight from Quito to the Galapagos, or as part of a cruise from other parts of the Pacific. Most flights arrive in Baltra Island, which is an excellent starting point to explore the rest of the islands in the area.
Before arriving, you’ll need to pay a $100 park entrance fee as well as $20 immigration control card fee, and your bag will be searched for contraband as there are strict rules of what can be taken into the islands. As this is a marine protected area, when visiting you will have to adhere to the park rules, such as never feeding the wildlife and always visiting protected park areas with a guide. With such an abundance of visitors, it’s an important reminder to leave the Galapagos as the wonderful ecological paradise that it is!
Itching to get to the Galapagos? This 8-Day Quito & Galapagos Discovery trip starts in Quito and flies to the Galapagos visiting some of its most impressive destinations, such as Bartolome and North Seymour Island.
The Most Popular Way to Explore the Galapagos: Cruises
One of the best ways to explore this remote natural wonderland is on a Galapagos Island cruise. This will ensure you visit the main attractions of the archipelago in a stress-free manner, as well as having a licensed guide onboard to enrich your experience. Many Galapagos cruises sell out fast, especially during high season which is December to January and June to August, so it’s best to book your trip from six to twelve months in advance, if possible.
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The national park restricts the size of boats to 100 passengers, and many cruises include tours with a wealth of exciting activities such as land-based hiking, water sport tours and wildlife expeditions.
Hop aboard a cruise of a lifetime and get some inspiration for some Galapagos Island cruises on the Ecuador trip gallery. This 8-day Galapagos Cruise will see you spending a week on a superior yacht cruiser spotting sea lions, turtles and other marine life around Floreana and Espanola Island. If you’re a little more hard-pressed for time but still don’t want to miss out on a wonderful experience, then this 4-day Galapagos cruise sets sail for some of the most important islands like Santa Cruz and San Cristobal.
Which Islands to Visit and What to Do on Each One
Isabela Island – The Biggest One
Bigger than the rest of the islands combined, Isabela Island is the largest of the Galapagos and is the only island to have the equator line run through it. You’ll find no shortage of interesting endeavours to partake in here both on, and off, land.
A must-see sight on Isabela Island is the Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre, one of the most successful conservation programs in the Galapagos where this unique species is bred and raised before being released into the wild. The west coast of Isabela Island is also one of the best places to observe wildlife in the Galapagos due to its nutrient-rich currents and is excellent for spotting dolphins, orcas and humpback whales.
One of the major highlights of Isabela Island is Tintoreras Islet: a collection of small volcanic rocks surrounded by turquoise crystal waters that are inhabited by white-tip reef sharks, sea lions, marine turtles and the famed Galapagos penguins. Spend three days exploring Isabela Island on this Galapagos Cruise to observe these incredible species in their natural habitat.
Santa Cruz Island – Galapagos’ Most Famous Island
Thanks to the nearby airport on Baltra Island, the larger and more populated Santa Cruz is a fantastic starting point for many cruises and tours.
Santa Cruz is home to the Charles Darwin Station, founded in 1959, and is the epicentre of all scientific research an environmental education in the Galapagos. The centre is well worth a visit to understand the importance of the conservation projects that are carried out in the archipelago.
Spending some time on Tortuga Beach in Santa Cruz will be one of the highlights of your trip, not only for its stretch of white-sanded shoreline but because of its sensational wildlife. You won’t be able to walk for two minutes without tripping over the marine iguanas that roam the sandy coast and you’ll often find them lazily sleeping in the sun or toppling over each other amongst the trees. Tortuga Bay is a favourite spot for sea turtles to lay their eggs too, and if you’re lucky, you might even spot some of them hatching!
Santa Cruz is also known for its striking lava tunnels, formed by a solidified molten lava flow thousands of years ago. Spend a day exploring Santa Cruz on this 19-day Ecuador trip and admire its awe-striking extinct volcanic landscapes and native birds, such as the vermilion flycatcher and the elusive Galapagos rail.
San Cristobal Island – The Tranquil Galapagos Island
The quieter of the main three islands, San Cristobal Island offers the tranquil and relaxed atmosphere you would expect from an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
If you’re interested in diving deeper into the history of the islands and the conservation efforts going into preserving them, head straight for the San Cristobal Interpretation Centre. Here, you will learn about the history of the Galapagos archipelago, as well as its volcanic origins, underwater currents, ever-changing climates and extraordinary species.
On San Cristobal Island, you’ll find of the most well-known sites in the Galapagos: Leon Dormido (meaning Sleeping Lion) or Kicker Rock, due to its boot-like appearance. An ancient volcanic cone formed this anomalous rock formation that towers 140 metres above the Pacific Ocean. Leon Dormido is a fascinating site for diving or snorkelling as it’s unique ecosystem makes it an underwater paradise. Its waters reveal brightly coloured fish, hammerhead sharks and sea turtles.
Dive in headfirst at Kicker Rock and discover marine life here for yourself on this 8-day Galapagos cruise.
If these once-in-a-lifetime experiences haven’t got you running to put on your explorer boots, we’re not sure what will! The Galapagos Islands will leave you marvelling at nature’s paradisiacal wonders at every twist and turn, whether that be hanging out with sea lions, snorkelling with sharks or studying marine iguanas, one thing is for sure, a trip to the archipelago will be one for the books.