The Galapagos Islands are a group of 19 islands in the Pacific Ocean, off the west coast of Ecuador. The islands are internationally famous among animal lovers and those interested in conservation, mainly thanks to the large number of unique species that live here.
One of the best ways to visit the islands is to take a cruise. Travellers have all the luxuries of a modern well-equipped ship to return to after spending an arduous day sightseeing. Many tour companies now include the Galapagos Islands as part of their South American schedule and it is up to the individual to decide what will suit them best. Today, around 30,000 people inhabit the islands, though the plethora of animal species and their habitats are still the main attraction.
Some of the islands are simply uninhabited rocky outcrops, while others are larger and have visitor centres as well as many examples of the rare animal species that live there. One of the islands’ most famous residents, a giant tortoise called ‘Lonesome George’ recently died at the great age of 100 years, but his place has been taken by ‘Diego’ an equally elderly tortoise; unlike George, Diego is able to reproduce. The Ecuador government has designated the Galapagos Islands as a National Park and there are strict rules about how visitors must respect the flora and fauna that abound there.
Nature lovers and those who enjoy sea activities will love the Galapagos, it is important to bear in mind that these islands are in the Southern hemisphere, so the warmest time to visit is between December and May - though locals maintain that there is a persistent drizzle throughout the year.
Camping is not allowed on any of the islands, so visitors have to leave at the end of each day and enjoy a good night’s rest on their cruise ships before embarking on more days of trekking and exploration.
Espanola Island is the furthest south of the group and is home to the mockingbird, the lava lizard and tortoise. For visitors to the island there are two main points of interest, Punta Suarez, which is home to many species of iguana and Gardener Bay, where the bay offers a range of swimming and snorkelling activities.
Isla Santa Cruz is the most populated of the Galapagos Islands and visitors are able to unwind and enjoy surfing, diving and snorkelling on its beaches. The town of Puerto Ayora is the main centre of population amongst all the islands and has many restaurants where visitors can sample Ecuadorian fare or other examples of international cuisine.
Anyone who wishes to see the famous Galapagos tortoises, sea lions, marine iguanas and dolphins should be sure that San Cristobal is on your cruise ship’s itinerary, you may even catch sight of sharks and rays as well as other exotic species swimming off the bow. San Cristobal is the place where Darwin first disembarked in 1835 and there is a statue to the eminent scientist in the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. Local boat tours can be booked for those who wish to explore the abundant sea life more fully.
Visitors who take a cruise to the Galapagos Islands can expect to enjoy extraordinary scenery as well catch sight of some truly unique animal species. Walking shoes and light waterproofs are essential.