When it comes to the Galapagos Islands, huge sea turtles and Charles Darwin most likely come to mind. This archipelago of nineteen islands is known as the place where the naturalist Charles Darwin developed his theory of natural selection and evolution. But what exactly can one do when visiting the Galapagos Islands? There’s quite a lot to discover on the islands. And it’s definitely a must see destination for nature lovers, adventure enthusiasts, and those curious as to how Darwin came to learn about his famous theories.
So where exactly are the Galapagos Islands located? They are located about 620 miles off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. They’re made up of approximately nineteen islands and many other smaller surrounding islets. These volcanic islands are known for their impressive biodiversity as well as beautiful landscapes. Black and barren volcanic rocks, amazing white sand beaches, and sparking blue waters are just a few of the alluring things that intrigue and entice travelers.
When to Visit
The best time to visit the Galapagos Islands depends on what type of experience you’re looking for. The islands do see a busy tourist season. Usually June-August and December-January tend to be the busiest times for tourism. So that means more people and most likely more expensive airfare.
If you’re a warm weather person, December through May is when the Galapagos Islands are in their hot, rainy season. This is usually when the surrounding seas are calmer and the rains don’t typically last all day.
For a cooler, dryer experience, consider a visit during the dry season, which usually lasts from June through November. Keep in mind that the seas tend to be rougher during this time. However, the cooler water temperatures tend to attract more marine life during this time. So you may get to see quite a lot more animals like hammerhead sharks and whale sharks while you’re there.
Since the Galapagos Islands are a territory of Ecuador, getting to the islands must be done from flights out of that South American country. Most flights can be found out of the capital city of Quito. Flights from the coastal city of Guayaquil are also available.
Quito is located in the Andes Mountains and is a high altitude city. So if you’re prone to altitude sickness, the Guayaquil option may be a better choice.
What to Do and See
Of course, there will be plenty of wildlife and natural landscapes to explore while visiting the Galapagos Islands. But what exactly is there to do and see? Here’s a look at some of the top recommendations to consider while on the islands…
Turtle Bay – Santa Cruz Island
White sands and turtles…it doesn’t get much better than that. Santa Cruz’s Turtle Bay is great for sunbathing, swimming, and seeing plenty of marine turtles. If you plan on visiting between the months of November through February, you may even be lucky enough to see black turtles laying their eggs. From June through July, those eggs emerge as hatchlings and make their way out to sea, which is an even more memorable moment. Marine iguanas and crabs also tend to frequent the area.
El Chato Tortoise Reserve – Santa Cruz Island
It wouldn’t be a trip to the Galapagos Islands without getting to see the famed giant tortoises. The El Chato Tortoise Reserve is part of the Galapagos National Park and one of the few places where tortoises can be observed in their natural habitat. Exploring the area and discovering the tortoises does require a bit of hiking, but it’s not really strenuous. It’s a great way to observe nature and the tortoises much like the way Darwin observed them when he was studying biodiversity on the islands.
Charles Darwin Research Station
If you’d like to learn a little more about the Galapagos Islands, the history of the area, and the ongoing research that continues, the Charles Darwin Research Station provides a wealth of interesting information. There are plenty of exhibitions and installations offering pretty much anything you’d like to know about the Galapagos Islands and its biodiversity. As you walk along the various paths in the area, be on the lookout for roaming tortoises and other animal life too!
Sierra Negra Volcano – Isabela Island
It stands at nearly 4,500 feet high and is definitely an impressive sight looming over the island of Isabela. And with a crater diameter of six miles (the second largest in the world), the Sierra Negra Volcano is a must destination to explore while visiting the Galapagos Islands. Be sure to pack some sturdy hiking shoes, as the volcano trek can proved to be tough in places. The area tends to see quite a lot of fog too. But if you’re lucky to get a clear view of the surrounding vistas…it’s going to be quite an impressive sight!
Snorkeling and Diving
Sure many tourists go to Galapagos for the amazing wildlife viewing options on land. But there’s quite a lot to see and do underwater as well. The Galapagos Islands offer some of the best snorkeling and diving spots in the world. Tropical fish, sea horses, sea lions, penguins, and occasional sea turtles are just a few of the various types of marine life you may come across.
Snorkeling and diving spots are most popular around the islands of Santa Cruz, Isabela Island, and San Cristobal. Avid divers should check out the diving spots around Gordon Rocks, North Seymore Island, and Mosquera Islet.
There are some really great, harder dives for those who are highly skilled divers, including the opportunity to venture inside hardened lava tubes. But if you’re a beginner, don’t worry. There are plenty of training and learning courses available for all experience levels.
One of the best ways to explore the Galapagos Islands and experience as much as possible is to go island hopping. Once you figure out what exactly you want to see and do, there are plenty of tour options available to help get you on our way to discovering all of the wonderful mysteries waiting on Darwin’s Galapagos Islands!