This was me flying over the Galápagos Islands.
I think an involuntary squeal came out too, but I couldn’t care less. The moment had arrived. I felt like a modern-day explorer at the brink of something very special. It was the beginning of our world trip and where better to start than the birthplace of the Origin of Species.
Charles Darwin said it best when he described the Galápagos Islands:
…by far the most remarkable feature in the natural history of this archipelago…is that the different islands to a considerable extent are inhabited by a different set of beings…I never dreamed that islands, about fifty or sixty miles apart, and most of them in sight of each other, formed of precisely the same rocks, placed under a quite similar climate, rising to a nearly equal height, would have been differently tenanted.
Like any global multicultural city, the Galápagos archipelago has ‘tenants’ that seemingly have migrated from somewhere else. It’s a rainbow of coloured feet, shells, scales, skin and flora.
So, let’s get started touring this UNESCO wonderland like a pro.
Where are the Galápagos Islands?
Like any great explorer, I armed myself with a map and the best way to see this South American archipelago is by boat. Sitting west of Ecuador and near the Equator, the group of islands provided us with memorable nature walks, wonderful snorkelling opportunities and the chance to watch the fearless wildlife in their natural habitat.
To get to the Islands, we took a short flight from Quito, Ecuador into Baltra Airport on Isla Baltra. The great news is that since June 2015 the Galápagos airport is now entirely run on solar and wind energy making it the first of its kind in the world.
Galápagos Islands – Is it worth going on a cruise?
Can a Galápagos giant tortoise live up to 150 years? (sneaky Fact 4)
I would highly recommend a tour with an experienced naturist and guide. Unless you are Darwin incarnate or even if you are a budding biologist or geologist, the experience is all the richer hearing it from a local experienced guide. Learn about the need for goat snipers or understand the infamous Booby mating dance.
Check out this great National Geographic opinion piece on Land v Boat tourism. Both, of course, can be damaging to the natural environment, but with land tourism being poorly managed – a population close to 50,000 with rapidly rising developments and introduced species – we opted for boat travel.
We set sail for 10 days with Peregrine Adventures on a combo Central and Southern Islands trip. We opted for these trips to experience as much snorkelling as possible. With up to 2 snorkels a day plus land visits; it was great to be able to swim with sea lions, iguanas, sharks, rays, penguins, turtles and endemic fish species.
The best of the Galápagos Islands wildlife and places of interest
Setting foot on the Islands is one of the best feelings as a traveller. Each day we were met with a completely different environment. It’s candy for the eyes!
Sands vary in colour from golden, green and red. Fauna can range from a desert cactus to lush green forests. Animals are fearless and (sometimes) playful.
Legends of a lizard man living in a cave and headless ghosts pepper an already extraordinary history.
Here’re Tripmashers favourite places to visit in the Galápagos Islands:
Charles Darwin Research Station
North Seymour Island
Is an animal and nature lover’s paradise. Highlights include:
Caleta Tortuga Negra (Black Turtle Cove)
Enjoy the serene panga ride through the nutrient rich mangroves.
Continuing the species. And yes, sometimes three is a crowd!
Cerro Dragon (Dragon Hill)
Meet the land and marine iguanas who rule this part of the Galápagos. One of my favourite things was to watch these prehistoric animals get around.
Sombrero Chino (Chinaman’s Hat)
A miniature volcano island shaped as the name suggests, the highlight of the island is the lava tubes.
Is one of the most photographic islands with its long stretches of red-coloured sandy beaches often with sea lions frolicking in the water. It’s also a great place to spot some rarely seen birds like the Galápagos hawk, doves, flamingos and mockingbirds.
The sandy, white beaches on the northern side of Santa Cruz Island is a great place to see nesting Green Turtles.
Wall of Tears
Isabella Tortoise Breeding Centre
More of a historical interest point, Postman’s Bay was set up by the British in 1793. Navigators set up the ‘office’ to leave messages for homeward bound sailors to take home. Today, you can take part and leave a postcard. Don’t forget to see if you can hand deliver a postcard for someone else.
Also, if you don’t fancy getting into the water to see white-tipped reef sharks, this little peninsula provides a great viewing walkway to see a colony of white-tipped reef sharks swimming and sleeping. Think of it as their bedroom!
Snorkel every chance you get
Yes, the water is fresh, but there is nowhere else quite like it to swim with such an abundance of animals large and small. Certainly not your average snorkel trip that’s for sure.
Galápagos Islands – When to visit?
Being so close to the Equator, the weather on the Galápagos Islands is always pleasant. However, each month brings new happenings on the islands due to both the wet and dry seasons.
The peak season is from mid-June through early September and from mid-December through to mid-January.
December to May: This is the rainy season, but the water and the air are warmer. You will experience a little rain daily, but only for a short period of time. Swimming and snorkelling might be more inviting, but there aren’t as many fish to see. On land, this marks the breeding season for birds. Turtles will be nesting on the beach and tortoises will be searching for mates from March to May. Sea lions will also be mating in the early part of the season with cute pups being born around April and May.
As the rain subsides from February to April the flora starts to bloom.
June to November: Experienced divers claim that this is the best time of year to visit the Galápagos. We travelled in mid-October to best experience the underwater world with the cool waters of the Humbolt current bringing lots of fish and plankton. It is also mating season for the Boobies. Be warned that the seas are rougher this time of year and Rich and I are both prone to seasickness, but pulled through with pills. I recommend combining your seasickness pills with ginger pills to settle the tummy.