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A trip to the Galápagos Islands in Ecuador – designated a Natural World Heritage Site by UNESCO – is a unique experience that changes visitors’ perception of the planet and the forces that have shaped it. It’s a milestone in thousands of travelers’ bucket lists because when looking for intimate encounters with nature there is no place on earth that resembles this one. Ancestral giant tortoises, curious and playful sea lions, land iguanas feeding themselves with cacti, blue-feet boobies, penguins, and many more non-flying species. Groups of dolphins or orcas following the shipping vessels, allow us to imagine how life was thousands of years ago.
After an hour and half flight from Quito or Guayaquil, you will reach this remote paradise of volcanic origins. Nineteen big islands and more that 40 rocky islets form the archipelago, home to 30.000 inhabitants, spread out across four populated centers. Puerto Ayora is located at the Santa Cruz Island, adjacent to Baltra. It offers some of the best touristic facilities in the Galápagos, and hosts the Charles Darwin Research Stations. Visitors can learn here about the giant tortoise reproduction programs as well as other efforts to preserve the ecosystems and fauna of the islands.
Short 4-day expeditions; cruises or hotel stays; visits that offer breathtaking views of impressive landscapes; adventures that let you see a massive array of the emblematic species that live on the islands; shipping vessels that travel to the most remote places in the archipelago… There are many alternatives and options to consider when visiting the Galapagos, but we highly recommend doing a guided expedition in order to get the best experience.
You can choose a comfortable 40-90 people cruise that will take you to the farthest islands. This journey of 5 to 10 days will introduce you to the most iconic species of the Galapagos. For those seeking a more personalized experience, another option is to travel on a smaller yacht where naturalist guides will be with you during the whole trip, and will share with you fascinating facts that will allow you to understand what Charles Darwin went through when he arrived to this world in 1835. It was this episode that led to his evolution theory development.
For those who prefer a land-base experience, there are many hotels that offer great comfort and the luxury of stunning views, high quality gastronomy and excellent costumer service. They also offer daily excursions to the nearby islands where visitors can interact with sea lions, marine and land iguanas, and many of the Galapagos bird species that will become unforgettable memories. The populated areas of the archipelago such as Puerto Ayora, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, Puerto Villamil and Floreana will also let you have a close encounters with sea lions and numerous bird species that are not afraid of humans.
This is also the best place in the world for those who love diving! The underwater world – the one that Charles Darwin did not have time to explore – is another laboratory of great wealth. Those who go for a diving adventure will discover great hammerheads, gigantic rays, seahorses, and compact colorful fish schools in an astonishing and pristine world. This marine reserve is the second most important one in the world, just after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
The Ecuadorian government declared the waters surrounding the Darwin and Wolf islands (popular places for scuba diving) a marine sanctuary, and artisanal fishing is prohibited. Recent studies have discovered that here lays the highest shark density in the planet, reflecting a healthy and privileged ecosystem.
The Galapagos islands are an all-year destination, although the high seasons go from June to September, and from December to mid-January. The Galapagos National Park has a strict limit for number of tourists visiting the islands by boat, which is why it is very uncommon to come across big groups.
We will craft your itinerary to the Galapagos based on your interests and time availability. We want to make sure your visit fulfills all your expectations, and that it becomes the journey of your lifetime.
Main cities – attractions
Santa Cruz is the second largest and most populated island of Ecuador’s Galápagos Archipelago. It’s also the closest one to Baltra’s airport. Puerto Ayora village is located on the Southern coast of the island and it is the main tourism hub, as well as the geographic and economic heart and soul of the archipelago. Here you will find some of the most exclusive hotels and small restaurants with seafood delicacies. Also located here is the Charles Darwin Research Station, home of the legendary giant tortoise breeding program.
Lonesome George – the last living tortoise of his species on Earth – passed away in 2012. Even though huge efforts were made to find him a breeding partner, Lonesome George left with no offspring to continue his legacy. He was an icon of Galápagos conservation efforts, and lived most of his life on Santa Cruz Island, at the Charles Darwin Research Station.
In Santa Cruz the options are diverse; the island offers enchanting possibilities. Imagine swimming with sea lions next to the coast, walking next to giant turtles and iguanas, watching the famous finches and other species of birds you have never seen before, or simply relaxing at one of its heavenly beaches. If you’re looking to get a nice tan before the end of your trip, head to Tortuga Bay, La Playa de Los Alemanes or El Garrapatero, and soak under the sun.
On the highlands, take hikes to the Tortoise Natural Reserves and other mysterious viewpoints of the island, like the underground lava tubes. For adrenaline lovers, climb the cliffs of Las Grietas and take a big plunge to fresh crystalline waters, the locals’ favorite weekend activity. You will soon realize they don’t call each other by their names; they all have a nickname. In order to become a real Galapagueño, you’ll have to choose your own before the end of your trip. It will be your souvenir to take with you forever!
Floreana’s island is named after the first Ecuadorian President, Juan José Flores and holds the most interesting human history out of all the Galápagos. From pirates and buccaneers to bloody-romantic affairs, Floreana and its 150 residents might inspire you to write your own book.
One of the most fascinating and dark Floreana stories is about the first colonizers of the island including the self-proclaimed Baroness Wagner de Bosquet. She arrived unannounced, with two lovers and plans to build a luxurious hotel on the island. The Baroness had a very strong personality and terrorized most of the inhabitants. She abused one of her lovers, Lorenz, who sought the Wittmer’s protection (a German family that made Floreana their home and are still in charge of tourism on the island). Not long after that, the bodies of the Baroness and her other lover disappeared, leaving behind only her possessions.
Floreana is also known for its natural beauty. The Devil’s Crown is one of the most popular spots on the island. The strong waves eroded away the volcanic crater, leaving behind rocky spikes that mimic a crown. Get your snorkeling gear ready and make your way to an underwater coral reef oasis. Swim with schools of fish, sharks, sea turtles, manta rays, and more. Hang out with pink flamingos at Punta Cormorant; their nesting space from December to May. End your day at Black Beach, another entrance to the island, and enjoy the magical colors of a sunset in the Galápagos.
When Charles Darwin arrived to the Galápagos, in 1835, he first went ashore at San Cristóbal Island. You can find his statue here. It is the easternmost island in the archipelago, and the oldest geologically. San Cristóbal is the result of 3 or 4 fused volcanoes and just like each of the islands in Galápagos, its fauna and flora is unique; an example of one of nature’s miracles.
The port city of Puerto Baquerizo holds the second largest populations in the Galápagos. This small dreamy fishermen town will be the starting point to numerous excursions around the island. After a short hike you will be face to face with La Loberia, a colony of sea lions. You can watch them bathing in the sun or plunging into the water. You can also take a quick swim with them to feel refreshed; you’ll be amazed how friendly they are!
Another stunning place in San Cristóbal is the Cerro Tijeretas, where you will find a nesting colony of Frigate birds. Bird lovers will feel like they’re in paradise! Continue to Puerto Chino, a white beach where you can enjoy the crystalline seawater and relax.
End your journey with a kayak ride through the Kicker Rock. Pay attention because there might be schools of colorful fish escorting your boat! This is another beautiful spot to explore underwater and do some snorkeling. The Galápagos will not cease to amaze you!
Isabela is the biggest island of the archipelago, and one of the most volcanically active places in the world! There are 6 volcanoes that formed the island, and 5 of them are still active. Isabela is also the youngest island. The lava has not developed the sufficient nutrients yet to allow the varied flora that other islands have. It’s very arid and extended lava fields.
Wild tortoises do have a preference for this island. Because of difficult topography of the island, due to the lava fields, many groups of tortoises have been constrained to smaller territories. This has resulted in the evolution of very diverse sub-species of tortoises.
There’s also an important presence of different types of other animal species like penguins, large marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, pelicans and more!
The port city of Puerto Villamil is the third largest population settlement of the archipelago. This island used to serve as a penal colony for prisoners from mainland Ecuador. They built the Muro de las Lágrimas (Wall of Tears) as part of their punishment. You can still see this monument on the island.
Cruising the Galápagos Islands is the best way to admire and absorb the beauty and magic of the archipelago. There are multiple options and services to choose from to make this a very unique experience.
The boats come in every shape and size: the largest cruises carry a maximum of 100 passengers, a preservation rule of the country. At the other end of the spectrum are the smaller and more private boats with space for only 8 guests. You will also have to plan how many days you want to be at sea; from three nights to fourteen, the choice is yours!
The cruises are equipped with spacious social areas, private rooms and private bathrooms, hot/cold water, air conditioning and more. All meals are usually included, as well as the excursions to the islands and transfers to and from the Galápagos airports.
Depending on the company, they will include in the total package price soft and alcoholic beverages, entrance fees to the National Parks, and/or domestic flight tickets.
GALAPAGOS LODGES AND HOTELS PACKAGES
Stay in the exclusive lodges and hotels that the inhabited islands of the archipelago have to offer: Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Floreana and Isabela. Relax in their comfortable private rooms and social areas, and receive a deluxe quality service.
If you stay on-land in one of the lodges, you can take daily excursions to discover the various natural wonders nearby. Visit attractions on the same island or go by boat to the surrounding islands and return to your hotel or lodge at the end of the day.
You can also choose to go island hopping and craft an itinerary that combines accommodations at the different lodges across the inhabited islands and enjoy the highlights of the Galapagos on tours from 3 to 7 or more nights.
Depending on the company, they will include in the total package daily excursions, meals and beverages, entrance fees to the National Parks, and/or domestic flight tickets.
When researching your trip to Ecuador, Ñan Magazine is a must-read. Not only will the publication provide you with useful information but more importantly, it will inspire you to feel, taste, smell, and touch what the country has to offer. The following article will take you to Galápagos. Grab your cup of tea and relax — you’re in for a treat.
If you want more, visit their website, sign up to their newsletter, buy the magazine or read it on your tablet!