The Galapagos Islands
Technically an archipelago, Galapagos is a collection of tiny volcanic islands on which you can observe a number of plant and animal species that do not exist anywhere else in the world. Scientists have long been fascinated by Galapagos, studying the unique life forms innate to the islands and hypothesizing as to how these amazingly distinctive creatures evolved.
Speaking of the science of evolution, it was at the Galapagos Islands in 1831 that a young man named Charles Darwin began observing the incredible phenomenon that would later be the foundation of his revolutionary theories on the evolution of life through natural selection.
For me, a trek to the Galapagos fulfilled my lust for both history and nature. It was truly an ideal travel destination.
Generally, I’m an independent vacationer. I fancy myself a sophisticated and savvy traveler, and as such I generally eschew guided tours, cruises, and the like. However, I had to sing a bit of a different tune when planning my trip to the Galapagos. You see, in order to see as many islands as possible—and in fact to even step foot on certain islands—you have to be on a guided cruise. Even if you want to be more independent, you have to have at least a tour guide before you are lawfully allowed to even set foot on any of the islands.
Fortunately, there are many options available for guided tours and/or cruises. The advantage of the cruise is that your journeys to the individual islands are all taken care of no—need to worry about arranging for transportation. And furthermore, as there are only two cities on the Galapagos on which overnight accommodations are available, staying on the cruise ship allows you to spend more time on the more distant islands than you otherwise would if you were having to travel to and from each day.
After mulling the options, I decided on a nine-day cruise in a smallish yacht that seated about 16 passengers because I wanted to see as much of the outer islands as possible, and I didn’t want to have to battle large crowds to see the all the glorious animals at our stops.
Among the amazing animals that I was delighted to be able to observe and in some cases touch:
The Famous Finches: There are around a dozen varieties of Galapagos finches and they are abundant on most of the islands, buzzing about ubiquitously. I had heard that these friendly birds—which are said to have been the impetus for Darwin’s original thoughts on evolution—would even fly up to you and eat out of your hand. Sadly, I didn’t get to experience this.
Galapagos Tortoise: These majestic creatures are what give the islands its name (not the other way around) and they are incredibly amusing creatures that come in several varieties (unfortunately, a few of them are going extinct) throughout the islands. These slow but friendly creatures are one of the oldest living vertebrates in the world, routinely living over 100 years old (and reportedly as long as 200 years in rare instances).
The Blue-Footed Booby: This distinctive long-winged seabird is most notably characterized by its vibrant blue feet, which can be found pitter-pattering up and down the beaches in the late evenings after they have returned from sea with their bounties of food. Male boobies have an even brighter, more vibrant blue hue on their feet, which they show off to the opposite gender in a lovable mating ritual.
Galapagos Sea Lion: Members of the sea lion species that is exclusive to the Galapagos can be found along the beaches, regaling tourists with their entertaining antics. They are abundant throughout the islands and they like to sunbathe alongside humans on the sandy beaches and rocky outcroppings throughout the islands. Not only are they very social, they are quite vocal, their distinctive yelp known as the “welcoming shout” of the islands.
To get the most out of a Galapagos excursion, I highly recommend you take a small-ship cruise of at least a week. As I mentioned before, there are certain islands that are completely inaccessible if you are not on a guided cruise. If you are particularly budget-conscious, consider booking your trip during low-season (late April to early July) when fares are a bit cheaper.
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