The Galapagos Island Archipelago, about 621 miles west of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean, consists of 15 major volcanic islands, 3 smaller islands and dozens of small rocks and islets. These islands have appeared over millions of years, and some have disappeared. The two “youngest” islands are, in fact, still being formed due to volcanic activity. Many of the islands have little or no vegetation, giving them an eerie, lunar landscape.
The first confirmed visitors to the Galapagos Islands were a group of Spanish conquistadors who accidentally washed up on the islands while sailing to Peru in 1535. The islands were populated only by animals, and the descriptions of these creatures by the castaways reached across the world.
Nearly 300 years later, the most famous visitor would reach the shores of the Galapagos Islands. Charles Darwin’s published theories on natural selection and evolution, based on his observation of the unique species on the islands, would change science and rock the world. Humans have been fascinated with the Galapagos Islands and its inhabitants ever since.
Today, visitors to these captivating volcanic islands can arrive in style, by cruise ship or with guided land tours. Many itineraries incorporate the Galapagos with other South American destinations. Globus Tours, for example has “The Spirit of South America with a Galapagos Cruise.” This itinerary takes guests to destinations such as Rio de Janiero, Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls and Macchu Picchu before setting sail west to explore the Galapagos. Abercrombie & Kent offers the 10-night “Exclusive Galapagos Photo Journey,” complete with specially chartered departure and an expert wildlife photographer to show guests how to get the best photos of this once-in-a-lifetime expedition. Even a cruise line noted for European river cruises – Avalon Waterways – offers Galapagos Cruises with guided excursions, coupled with a land package in the Amazon Jungle! And of course, Celebrity Cruises Xpedition is an ecologically-minded small ship (only 92 passengers) dedicated to Galapagos voyages, where travelers can alternate between luxury onboard and adventures on land. Your Key Traveler Cruise and Tour specialist will advise you as to the options best suited to meet your expectations.
On the islands of the Galapagos, travelers will see endemic species, that is, species that are found nowhere else on earth. Visitors can marvel at the giant tortoises that the Galapagos are perhaps best known for. These reptilian behemoths can be close to 6 feet long, weigh over 800 pounds and live for more than 100 years. Humans can also spot marine lizards diving for algae and land lizards foraging in the vegetation; they can watch blue-footed boobies frolic on land and soar in the air; they can swim with friendly sea lions; and can get up close and personal to colonies of the Galapagos penguin, the only species of penguin that lives north of the equator in the wild.
But don’t think that the most amazing creatures are only above the ocean’s surface. Many excursions include snorkeling and some of the best underwater views can be had at Pinnacle Rock on Isla Bartolome. Lucky snorkelers might glimpse sharks, rays, octopi and a multitude of species of fish.
Even if you don’t want to snorkel, take a dip into the water and see who swims up to say hello. If you don’t want to get your feet wet, simply enjoy the sunshine on the beach.
One might be surprised to learn that approximately 30,000 people live in the Galapagos Islands. Towns can be found on Santa Cruz, Isabela, San Cristobal, Floreana and Baltra Islands. There are even two airports in the Galapagos. Shops, hotels, eateries – in other words, tourism – are the main businesses of the residents. Many are from Ecuador, but many also arrived from other parts of the world to support the tourist industry while sustaining the ecological soundness of the area.
A Galapagos expedition is a wildly popular choice for travelers. The types of trips available cater to everyone from luxury cruisers to fearless adventurers. Key Traveler tour specialists can help you put together the Galapagos Island trip of your dreams.