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The Galapagos Islands of Ecuador are an ever-popular travel hotspot, and visiting is a truly wild experience! Situated in an isolated bit of the eastern Pacific off the coast of South America, there’s no questioning the desirability of the locale! That’s to say nothing of the timeless, magical lure of the archipelago itself. When one travels a lot, it’s easy to assume a “been there, done that” world-weariness—the Galapagos defy even the most jaded to not fall in love with the wholehearted abandon of the first-timer.
There are over 60 approved visitor stops scattered through the island chain. Consequently, planning a Galapagos itinerary does necessarily involve some prioritizing. Most visitors come for the wildlife: blue-footed boobies, albatross, seals, sea lions, and, of course, the finches and giant tortoises that Charles Darwin made famous. Different species are more or less visible at different times of year, so assembling a wish list is paramount! Your days will be full of adventure and our nights will be some of the most peaceful imaginable, lulled to sleep by the womb-like hum of the sea rocking gently beneath you. Great food, good company, and the occasional siesta will fuel your engines for even more exploration and marvels to come.
UNESCO designated the whole of the Galapagos as a World Heritage Site, and great pains are taken to preserve the pristine beauty of the islands, all the better to preserve the virgin wonder of this enchanted land for future generations. Whether you are a seasoned ecotourist or simply a pilgrim at the shrine of natural beauty, the Galapagos are ready to astound you.
Top Sights in the Galapagos Islands
Hood Island, or Espanola, is the oldest island in the Galapagos chain. Consequently, the animals there have had the longest time to evolve. Sea lions flop on the wet sand, large cactus finch take to the air, and the comically wobbly waved albatross takeoff and land right before your eyes! Divers will thrill to the underwater glory of Islote Gardner, a site of stark dropoffs lining a plane of soft sand and big boulders. Pufferfish, urchins, moray eels, and sea stars are only some of the many denizens of this subaquatic Eden. The fish and other sealife are bigger at Baja Gardner, the second of Espanola’s notable dive sites. Larger eels, sturgeon, rays, and flounders are just some of the fauna hanging around here.
The most important of the Galapagos, Santa Cruz is the most populated as well. Puerto Ayora, the largest town on the Galapagos, is located here. Lodging, eateries, and shopping can all be found, along with the Charles Darwin Research Station, where tortoises and iguana are bred and studied. Sunbathe on the shores of Tortuga Bay, go scuba diving, or take in a romantic meal served outdoors and overlooking the water. The mangrove swamp at Black Turtle Cove can be entered by panga, or dinghy. Watch rays, turtles, and even sharks swim by, glimpse herons on the prowl for dinner, or sip a cool drink as you watch the fiery spectacle of an equatorial sunset. Dive the canyon of Las Grietas for crystalline waters and a possible peek at hammerheads!
The volcanoes of Isabela cover an island larger than all the rest of the Galapagos combined! Within the relatively large 75 square miles of the island is Puerto Villamil, a great site for surfing, biking, and hiking. There’s a few small but very good restaurants, a tortoise breeding center, gorgeous beaches, and plenty of authentic charm. You’ll find Tagus Cove on the west coast of Isabela, and within it cormorants, hawks… and penguins! Yes, the adorable and waddling superstars of any birdwatching trip can be found here zipping through the water at play and bobbing for fish! Urvina Bay is another hotspot for close encounters with wildlife: here, sneak a glimpse of marine iguanas (they expel salt through glands near their nostrils!), tortoises, and brilliant, flowering cotton blossoms in bloom. On Elizabeth Bay, prepare to be thoroughly charmed by blue-footed boobies and their goofy, entirely unique mating dance. It’s half strut, half bob-and-weave, and 100% adorable!
You’ve never experienced cruising quite like this before! Some of the world’s most luxurious and exotic cruises swing by the Galapagos, owing to the fact that nowhere is there such an exotic, pristine, and fascinating port of call! From the deck of your ship, you’ll spy schools of tortoises, take in the renowned island sunsets, and lounge under some of the most brilliant starry skies you’ve ever seen. You’ll paddle zodiac rafts to secluded coves and virgin sand beaches on day trips to the shore, where the wild and wonderful animal life of the Galapagos frolic on the sand. Adorable hotels and high-qualities restaurants with gorgeous ocean views await!
Negotiating the Galapagos’ popularity with the very pressing and real need to preserve the complex ecosystem of the archipelago is a delicate thing. To that end, there’s a thriving industry of ultra-cautious tourism of the islands coupled with a healthy dose of education and boosting awareness. The “greenest” tours use small boats and take varying itineraries around the islands to safeguard the land to the greatest extent possible. Visitors are required to hire a certified naturalist to actually set foot on the islands, and strict rules are maintained with regards to the safety of the animals and the degree to which humans can interact with the environment. Still, tens of thousands of visitors each year attest to the fact that a Galapagos visit is an unforgettable experience. Many places bill themselves as “paradise,” but this equatorial wonderland boasts one of the most legitimate claims to the title.
|Capital: Puerto Baquerizo Moreno|
|Primary Airports: Baltra (Seymour) Airport (GPS)|
|Currency: US Dollar (USD)|
|Population: 4,200 (2012 est.)|
|Language: Spanish, English|
|Electricity: 220V/60Hz, 110V/60Hz (North American or Euro plugs)|
|Time Zone: UTC -6|
Ecuador & Galapagos Travel Reviews
Bette from AZ
The sun is hot...be protected , cover up. Hats, gloves, scarves and sunscreen. Don't be afraid to rent a wet suit. They are another means of protection. Each island is different and exciting. The animals are Fabulous and friendly.
17 of us lived on a yacht for 10 days. The two assigned guides were outstanding. This trip was one of my all time favorites.
The many faces of Ecuador
I spent a summer studying abroad in the Ecuador's capital city, Quito to improve my Spanish. Quito is a beautiful city wedged between in the Andes mountain range at nearly 10,000 feet. I loved spending time in the Historic district as well as the up-and-coming, artsy neighborhood of Guapulo. The hearty food and delicious baked goods were also a plus. Additionally, I spent time in all of mainland Ecuador's regions: Amazon, highlands, and coast. However, my favorite region is a mix between the Amazon and highland region. These areas, called cloud forests, are mostly warm and provide much of the same vegetation as the Amazon without the humidity and extensive rainfall. There is a very special language of clouds there and just driving through those regions on spindly roads is breathtaking. Banos and Mindo were the loveliest cloud forest expedition sites. Another favorite was the lively coastal life of Ecuador. A hundred tiny quaint coastal towns dot the northern coast, filled with friendly folks, calm beaches, and exotic fruits, while the southern beaches are famed for their optimal recreational waves and a more lively social scene.
Finally, I greatly enjoyed Ecuador's third largest, and arguably most beautiful city: Cuenca. Cuenca is situated in the southern highland region. It is home to colorful colonial architecture and a bustling town center. Two rivers run through the city, providing beautiful riverside walking paths and an inviting sit for vendors. With a multitude of parks, eateries, and sites, Cuenca is a perfect city to simply relax and stroll around.
Exotic Adventure in Ecuador
As a single grad student, I was given the opportunity to travel to Oyacachi and Quito, Ecuador. In Oyacachi, the charming residents wore the brightest, most cheerful colored clothing I have ever seen. They also cooked the best trout this particular seafood-lover has enjoyed anywhere in the world! The views from the village are spectacular, with incredibly high peaks topped with snow visible even while I was wearing shorts. Should you have the opportunity to visit this hidden gem, just make sure you wear a hat while you bask in their hot springs. Getting sunburn near the equator is not an experience I would encourage you to share! Another unique opportunity in Oyacachi included watching the villagers work together in a group, utilizing a tree they cut themselves, as they carved bowls and utensils in front of guests. These hand-carved products are then given as gifts or sold.
Following time spent in Oyacachi, I traveled to Quito, Ecuador. If you are looking for unique offerings, do not miss the local outdoor markets. I found a hand-made lace tablecloth for a very reasonable rate, as well as pictures painted by local artists, clothing and jewelry. Walking around Quito is a pleasant experience for your eyes, as well. Distant hills and close-up shops will entice both city and country fans.
A Climbing Adventure in Ecuador
I was lucky to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Quito, Ecuador for 2 years. This Andean city is spread across a spectacular valley and surrounded by volcanic peaks. The historical center, also known as the old town, is a maze of colonial splendor and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I started missing my host country after I returned to the United States, so I decided to return to see and climb the famous Cotopaxi volcano. It has an altitude of 55897 meters above sea level. It is active and covered with snow. I booked my trip online through Ecomontes tours. I highly recommend the 2 days/ 1 night: Cotopaxi Climbing Package. I flew into Quito and stayed at the Hotel Casa de Hacienda La Jimenita. It is a rustic inn with clean and comfortable rooms which are reasonably priced. The next day my bilingual guide met me at the hotel at 9:00am. We drove to Cotopaxi National Park. He provided climbing gear as well as meals. After eating lunch I completed a training course. Then we ate supper and rested for a few hours. Our ascent began at 1:00am and it took almost 5 hours to reach the top. The trek was a rigorous and exhilarating experience and the view was spectacular especially because it was nighttime. There were other tourist wandering around and commenting on the area’s beauty. I can understand why the ancient Ecuadorians thought God lived there. Our return climb took only 21/2 hours. We arrived at my hotel in Quito at 2:30 pm.
Nicole's Semester Abroad in Ecuador
Out of the desire to explore new worlds and pick up some Spanish language skills, I boldly embarked on a semester abroad in Ecuador. The crown jewel of my trip was the three months spent in the Galapagos Islands. The snorkeling and diving in the Galapagos was some of the best I've experienced including sightings of barracuda, hammerhead sharks, and other local shark species. On Santa Cruz Island, the Charles Darwin Research Station covers the amazing natural history of the islands and explains the numerous species of finches and giant tortoises while also working hard to conserve these creatures for future generations. Besides the Galapagos, there were many amazing destinations to be found on the mainland.
It was off the coast near the Machalilla National Park that I had my first-ever whale sighting. Amazingly, it was a mother and baby whale and their adorable antics came right near our boat! Near the same area, we explored The Silver Island (Isla de la Plata) where the ground was littered with blue-footed boobies raising their young. Towards the interior of Ecuador where the Amazon Rainforest lies, the Tiputini Biodiversity Station provided the opportunity to see monkeys, snakes, and insects that are normally found only on television. Just be careful to bring the right insect repellent! The beautiful "Virgen de Quito" and the lovely stained glass art displayed inside are also not to be missed. The monument is located on the El Panecillo hill that provides an excellent viewing of Quito.
My experience in Guayaquil, Ecuador was nothing short of magical and exciting. I went on a self-funded trip to see the country. From the moment that the city revealed itself I felt like I had come home. The city was alive with life and bustling businesses. My first meal at a local restaurant was rice and braised beef with cool, freshly cut avocado on the side. The people were extremely friendly and curious to know more about me as a foreigner. The country has beautiful, natural scenery. Every night that I spent in Guayaquil reminded me that I was alive and full of adventure. It is a great place to escape and try new, exotic foods and see unique locales. I will give this beautiful city only four stars out of five for two reasons. My first reason is that some of the taxi fares were too high. When it was clear that I was not a native Ecuadorian, some taxi drivers tried to raise the price of their fares dramatically. This was resolved with some careful haggling. Also, most taxis do not have seat belts and the drivers would put even the most reckless NASCAR driver to shame. However, if you are traveling with a guided tour company, this should not be an issue at all.