pinterest verify Globerovers Travel Photography: Animal Paradise - Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

Animal Paradise - Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

Islas Galápagos, named after the shells of saddlebacked Galápagos tortoises, is an archipelago of volcanic islands distributed around the equator, almost 1,000 kilometres west of continental Ecuador.

These islands are famed for their endemic species studied by Charles Darwin which supported his theory of evolution by natural selection back in the 1830's.

The days when Darwin was one of the few visitors to these remote islands are long gone. No longer are these islands remote! A four hour flight from Quito, the Ecuadorian capital takes you right into the main island of Santa Cruz from where you can take a bus to the largest town - Puerto Ayora. While most flights from Quito (often via the coastal town of Guayaquil) arrive at Puerto Ayora, you can also fly into Baltra (South Seymour Island) and San Cristobal Island. Flights are not cheap and foreigners pay about four times more than what locals pay.

Avoid the high season! Low season is generally regarded to be around April & May and September & October. June to December is generally called the "dry season," but in August and September it can be persistently overcasted with thin cloud layers. The rains during the wet season (January to May) tend to be short lived and pass quickly, leaving behind gorgeous blue skies. I visited in early February and the weather was perfect and I can't complain about too many tourists. The sea is calmest during the wet season. Be careful - during the dry season - especially August and September - the sea can become very choppy. Some say the best time to visit is mid-April to mid-May. Don't bank on anything. Conditions can change unpredictably!

If you have the time, just fly to Puerto Ayora and visit a few of the local booking agents. There are many types of cruises to choose from - Economy, Tourist, Tourist Superior, First Class, and Luxury. Even if you have the money, I'd say avoid the Luxury class - unless you are an old spoiled fart! The Economy and Tourist Class are a lot more down to earth with young travelers. Don't even consider of cruise of less than eight days. Every night you will sail from one island to the next and during the day you'll explore the islands by foot, and snorkel with the friendly Galapagos Sea Lions and Fur Seals. Feel free to play with the juveniles but stay clear from the grumpy and very territorial males - especially the old and big daddies.

The most amazing experience at the Galapagos Islands is that the animals have little fear for humans. Most animals you can approach very closely but please, do keep your distance and don't test the limits of these amazing animals. Never ever think about touching (or feeding) any animals and do not get between a parent and their juveniles.

Enjoy the seas and feel free to plunge off the roof of your boat (unless you're on a Luxury boat which likely will prohibit it). Two warnings...most boats flush their toilets directly into the sea so be careful where you take the plunge. Also, minutes after I got back on my boat after a few high plunges from the roof, I witnessed a large shark gaffing a floating seagull. Ouch! That could have been me!

While the island cruise is a must - also make sure to spend a few days on the islands of Isabela, Santa Cruz, and San Cristobal. These are some of the few islands which allow independent travel (without a guide) and allow for overnight stays. Also make sure to befriend one of the locals who own property where you can check out the Galápagos tortoises. I befriended an American guy referred to by his wife who works in Puerto Ayora and he came to pick me up in town and took me to his farm where I spent an entire day roaming amongst the ancient giants - the Galápagos tortoises.

Ecuador's currency is the US dollar. Bring enough as the Galápagos is not cheap. Eat lots of Ceviche which can be made of fish (Ceviche de pescado), shrimp (de camarones), shellfish (de concha), squid (de calamari), or all of the above together (mixta).

In summary - to do's and not to do's:
  • Take a boat cruise. Don't base yourself in a hotel and take day trips.

  • If you're on a budget - consider buying your boat cruise ticket in Puerto Ayora - but only if you have enough time. Shop around and negotiate without fear. An Economy boat can vary from about $250 per day, down to $100 per day. In high season you may have to wait a week for your preferred class boat. In low season, maybe only a day or two. Try to avoid booking online.

  • Plan for at least 10-12 days with a cruise of 8 days and then go solo to explore the islands of Isabela, Santa Cruz, and San Cristobal for another 2 to 5 days

  • Diving is good especially for Manta Rays and Hammerhead sharks. The water is not tropical so you won't see much coral. Most boats rent snorkels and fins or you can hire in town

  • Whether diving or snorkeling or swimming - currents can be strong during June to December, and particularly in August and September

  • If you love children, make sure to avoid a boat full of them - or any of after 8 days on a boat with kids (<16), you may just never again like kids!

  • If you like a night-cap or sundowner, make sure to buy your liquor before going on board (best buys on the mainland). If you are on the more luxury boats, bringing your own liquor may not be kosher - but then again money may not be an issue. Drinks on board are not cheap!

  • If you get seasick - then best is to stay on land or at least go for a bigger boat.

  • If you want to select a specific boat, make sure to read reviews of its crew and the boat's performance and facilities. Not all Economy boats are as fun as the one I took. Make sure to get some reviews before you book. Otherwise hope for the best.

Be a very responsible traveler, respect the animals, and you'll have an unforgettable time on Islas Galápagos.

More photos of Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands