If you want to view wildlife, there are seabird colonies of red-footed boobies and nazca boobies, giant tortoises, sea lions, sea turtles and penguins. If you like reptiles, you’ll find plenty of them. Iguanas - both land and sea -- and lizards abound. Sea lions are marine mammals! There are relatively few land mammals to be found here as the distance from the mainland is considerable. Grasses and ferns are plentiful while blossoming flowers are not part of the landscape.
Situated approximately 600 off miles the coast of Ecuador in South America, the Galapagos Islands include 13 major islands and seven smaller islands, all part of the Galapagos archipelago and the South American country, Ecuador. The islands have both tropical and temperate climates. Most are located just below the equator. They are volcanic islands, formed by repeated volcanic action. You can experience these relatively remote islands by land or sea or both.
One way to see the islands is to fly to Quito, Ecuador first, explore there, then fly on to Santa Cruz Island, approximately two hours, 15 minutes with one stop in Guayaquil, Ecuador, the country’s most populous city.
Best-known from their exploration by Charles Darwin in 1835, the islands are home to diverse plant and mostly amphibious animal life because of their unique ecosystem and environmental conditions “that set them apart from all other island groups in the world,” according to the Galapagos Conservancy.
In fact, the Galapagos appeared on the world’s radar when the Dominican friar, Fray Tomas de Berlanga, Bishop of Panama, first discovered the islands on March 10, 1535 on his way from Panama to Peru. Currents set him off course. According to the Galapagos Conservancy, his account of the voyage is the first written record of the Galapagos and describes the giant tortoises and cacti, the inhospitable terrain and the difficulty finding water.
Through the years, pirates, whalers, fur sealers, fishermen, scientists, colonists and tourist have visited the Galapagos Islands, with impact on their flora and fauna.
According to Michael H. Jackson, in his guide book, Galapagos: A Natural History, the tops of underwater Galapagos volcanoes appeared about five to 10 million years ago off the coast of Ecuador in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. They had no plant or animal life. Species are believed to have arrived by sea and air. They either swam or floated to the islands with the help of tangled vegetation “rafts” or flew, or were blown by wind. In the last 500 years or so, people have introduced new plants and animals to the remote islands.
By Land & Sea
There are many ways to see the Galapagos: by small cruise ship, through a land-based tour or a combination. Major cruise lines and smaller companies plan itineraries in the Galapagos. Which way you should travel depends on how much time you have, which combination of islands you want to see and your budget.
Some itineraries include time in Quito, Ecuador, before embarking on the islands. For those who want to experience the Galapagos Islands but prefer a hotel to a small yacht as home base, Artisans of Leisure offers a land-based tour with hotel accommodations, naturalist-led excursions on Santa Cruz Island as well as naturalist-led day trips aboard a private yacht to surrounding islands.
In the historic city of Quito, Ecuador’s capital, a private local guide leads a tour of the city center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site characterized by Spanish colonial-era architecture. You can see hidden courtyards, visit museums, markets and traditional workshops, maybe even find a Panama hat, made in Ecuador!
You’ll fly to Santa Cruz Island, where Pikaia Lodge, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, will be your home for four nights. Ride the private 100-foot yacht to others parts of the island as well as nearby islands such as Bartolome, Santiago and North Seymour.
On Santa Cruz Island, be sure to check out the giant tortoise reserve and the Charles Darwin Research Station, where a different sub-species of tortoise is raised.
On the way home, you’ll spend one more night in Quito to catch a last look. www.artisansofleisure.com
For those who prefer to cruise there are different options. Ecoventura, family-owned and operated since 1990, offers four expedition vessels that ply the waters of the Galapagos: the Eric, Flamingo, Letty and Galapagos Sky. Flamingo and Letty are identical 20-passenger motor yachts with departures every Sunday; there are two different seven-night itineraries. You’ll see the islands with a naturalist guide in a group of 10 travelers. Menus feature locally sourced meals prepared by culinary school-trained chefs. For those who enjoy SCUBA diving, the 16-passenger Galapagos Sky brings travelers to the northern islands of Wolf and Darwin. Land excursions are included in the week-long trip. www.ecoventura.com
Celebrity has three different ways to experience the Galapagos. The first is a 100-passenger vessel, the Celebrity Xpedition that cruises for seven, 10, 11 or 15 nights featuring nightly lectures by certified naturalists from the Galapagos National Park, who travel with you. There’s room service, in-suite dining, massage and a fitness room as well. The Celebrity Xperience features 24 staterooms, each with an ocean view. Select seven-, 10-, or 13-night all-inclusive packages. The Celebrity Xploration is an eight-stateroom catamaran that explores the Galapagos Islands for seven nights. You can add pre- or post-cruise (or both) travel. The three ships begin sailing in the region in March 2017. The two smaller ships have experienced a multi-million dollar “refresh.” There are six itineraries that include a total of 15 islands and more than 30 ports of call. The new Xperiential Travel 13-night itinerary includes two nights in Quito, seven nights of cruising and a stay at a seaside hotel in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. On the Xperience, ports-of-call include Black Turtle Cove, Darwin Bay and Mosquera Islet. It also stops at El Barranco, known for its Prince Philip’s steps that lead to seabird colonies of nazca and red-footed boobies. www.celebritycruises.co.uk