The Galápagos Islands

In the two-hour flight across the thousand kilometers of Pacific Ocean from the Ecuadorian mainland to the Galápagos archipelago, visitors can expect to be transported to an environment reminiscent of prehistoric times.

Elegant folds and fans of solidified lava, imposing towers of solid rock, and vast expanses of white, red, and green sand create a Spartan, hauntingly beautiful landscape. Slate black marine iguanas crawl up the rocky substrate from their marine play place, announcing their presence with a primordial release of salt from their nostrils. Land tortoises — or galápagos, the Spanish word for the domed saddle resembling the tortoise’s shell — slowly lumber from slimy bog to grassy clearing.

The Galápagos Islands, made famous for inspiring biologist Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection, provide travelers the opportunity to observe — without the aid of binoculars — the unique and often unusual characteristics and behavior of island bird, reptile, mammal and fish species not found anywhere else in the world. Nearly one in four species is endemic, or found only in the Galápagos. And because many of the animals in the Galápagos have no natural predators, both land and sea animals remain “ecologically naïve,” virtually fearless and unaffected by visitors.

In part due to the dynamic collision of three ocean currents at the Galápagos, there is an unbelievable abundance of sea life. As a result, visitors can observe large marine fauna — like dolphins, sharks, sea turtles, and the occasional whale shark or sperm whale — as well as colorful reef fish and echinoderms (sea stars, brittle stars and sea cucumbers) found only in the waters surrounding the archipelago. Another highlight is snorkeling mask-to-whiskers with playful sea lion pups.

Galapagos is one of the world’s premier SCUBA diving sites.

If you are a passive traveler envisioning long naps on the beach and spacious accommodations, you best not spend the money on Galápagos. Instead, expect to be visually and intellectually stimulated (if not physically challenged) by the unique beauty, natural history and evolutionary processes witnessed on each island.

Most travelers take a cruise in the Galapagos and take 1-2 trips to land per day exploring visitor spots on various islands. Should you choose to spend more time on land rather than sea, however, there are a number of Galapagos hotels to choose from and a growing number of Galapagos land based tours.