The Galapagos Islands, located 1,000 km. (600 miles) off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean, have captured the imagination of poets and biologists alike.
Separated from the mainland, evolution created stunning endemic creatures such as the giant tortoise and the sea iguana (see picture above), animals found only on the Galapagos.
If a visit to Ecuador is due than the islands will be remembered as the absolute highlight of an unforgettable journey.
- Official Name: Archipiélago de Colón
- Capital: Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (San Cristóbal Island)
- Government: The Galapagos Islands are a province of Ecuador
- Population: 40,000
- Total Area: 7,880 square km (3,042 sq. miles) of land spread over 45,000 square km (28,000 miles) of ocean, made up of 13 main islands, 6 smaller islands, and 107 rocks and islets (5 inhabited)
- Official Language: Spanish
- Conservation: 97% protected as Galapagos National Park in 1959, 3% inhabited. Listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site 1978, UNESCO Biosphere Reserve 1985, UNESCO included the 70,000 sq kilometers (43,496 sq mi.) of marine Reserve into the Galapagos world heritage site in 2001
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Take a Tour
To visit the Galapagos Islands you can:
- Book a tour either at home or in Ecuador
- Get to the islands by yourself and shop for a boat (read how I did it here)
A basic tour takes you on a three-day tour (with the two-way flight this is sold as a 5-day tour), you visit either the Northern or the Southern Islands. I can highly recommend taking the six-day tour package (this is sold as a 7/8 day tour). You get to see all the islands (well, almost) and it's just so wonderful to be able to experience those wonders with time at your hand.
As you can see there's a tour for every budget. It ranges from $800 to many thousands of dollars, but rest assure, at the end of the day you've all seen the same wonderful creatures.
Note: I was on the small but pleasant 'Cormorant' (the boat on the left) for six days and visited the following islands:
The rocky island's red beach is frequented by sea lions, pelicans and boobies nest near the shoreline and a few hundred meters inland sits an awe-inspiring flamingo lagoon. Nine species of finches have been reported here, and invertebrates, sea lions, manta rays are common sites.
Sombrero Chino (Chinese Hat):
A small Islet located southeast of James Island. Fragile lava coats nearly the entire islet. The islets principal attractions are its many small lava tubes, its coralline beach, and its impressive array of fauna, including sea lions, penguins, marine iguanas, hawks, lava cactus.
Jutting out of Sullivan Bay, Pinnacle Rock seems to watch you as you pass by... Bartolome has some of the best scenery in the islands. Moreover, Bartolome is perfect for snorkeling and diving and boasts an ancient crater, great for hiking, and lovely beaches.
A great opportunity to view newly forged volcanic landscapes composed of relatively flat, black pahochoe lava, and dotted with pyroplastic cones. Also, see the tiny Mollugi plants that grow out of fissures, as they begin to colonize the arid terrain.
Life is everywhere you look. Red-pouched frigate birds (they display their red pouches as part of their unique mating ritual, blue-footed boobies and swallow-tail gulls are just a few of the many endemic birds that inhabit the island.
A quiet, secluded cove with a nice beach and good snorkeling. A great place to anchor and watch iguanas and lava lizards standing silent vigil while families of sea lions frolic in the soft, white sand. Noble Palo Santo and dramatic stands of Opuntia cactus form the backdrop of this magic scene.
Nearly all the species found on this island are visible at Punta Suarez, including tame mockingbirds, uncommon red - and green - trimmed marine iguanas, both blue footed and masked boobies, and albatross colonies. Hike to the blowhole and enjoy glittering sand beaches.
Known for Post Office Bay where 18th century whalers opened an unofficial post office in the form of a barrel.
The Thirteen Islands
The archipelago consists of 13 volcanic islands and is considered to be one of the most active volcanic areas of the world. The latest eruption on the Galapagos Islands occurred on September 30, 1998 when the Cerro Azul volcano erupted in the extreme south of Isla Isabela, the largest island in the Galapagos archipelago.
The Wonders of Creation
The main reason to visit the Galapagos Islands are the wonders that evolution has created. They're just so, so beautiful. The giant tortoise is without doubt their most famous creature. It can weigh over 225 kg (500 pounds) and measure 1.8 m (6 feet) from head to tail. Some can grow as old as 150 years.
There are 15 recognized races of tortoises, all generally considered to be members of the single species Geochelone Elephantopus. The 15 races of tortoises can be divided into two general morphotypes: domed and saddle-backed. In the domed tortoises, the front edge of the shell forms a low line over the neck while in saddle-backed tortoises, the front edge arches high over the neck. Four races are extinct.
The Charles Darwin Research Station in Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz Island) has a breeding program running as the Giant Tortoise is still an endangered species.
The animals on the Galapagos Islands are very tame and you can get very close to take your wildlife pictures, click here to see wonderful iguanas. The iguana on top of this page was taken with a macro lens at just 10 cm. (4 inch) from its face. It didn't budge. Just amazing.
Some of the inhabitants of the Galapagos Islands
A giant tortoise is taking it easy on the Galapagos Islands
The tortoise is on the left, the creature on the right is not a Galapagos inhabitant
Diving and Snorkeling
While cruising around you will have snorkeling possibilities at will on the Galapagos Islands. Sharks, rays, penguins and tropical fish will be your performing actors of the day. Some tours offer dive opportunities but are obviously a bit more expensive. In Puerto Ayora on the main island you can book a one-day dive tour (all inclusive).
Two SCUBA divers swim with a giant whale shark in the Galapagos Islands. Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world. They are completely harmless to humans, eating only very small fish and krill.
Other Must See Places in Ecuador
© All photographs by Mark Van Overmeire*
*Photograph of "Silhouette Of Whale Shark And Divers" by Craig Ruaux | Agency: Dreamstime.com