Discovering the Galapagos Islands is reconnecting with the natural world, a journey that has brought travelers including Charles Darwin, bush league pirates, and the likes of the Cousteau family and David Attenborough to the shores of the archipelago 500 miles off of the Ecuadorian mainland.
While getting there was half the battle for those who made the journey in the past, today’s explorers have a new hurdle to overcome-how to do it and what to see. Keep reading for some practical advice and Galapagos Islands facts that might help while making an informed plan for a trip to a place that reaffirms the wonders of the natural world from a first-hand perspective.
• Cruise boats can only stop at each visitor site once in a two week period. This rule has helped to create the different itineraries for the Galapagos and there are a limited collection of routes that do their best to accommodate a variety of travelers.
• Land-based trips include an out-of-the-way safari camp with like-minded tours to the outlying islands, island hopping tours that take you to San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Isabela, and Floreana to explore the beaches, coves, and volcanoes within their midst, and active endeavors that give you room to stretch your legs while biking, scuba diving, kayaking, and surfing.
• The Galapagos National Park also requires that a trained a certified guide accompanies you to most sites in the islands.
• Water is a scarce resource, food is shipped in from themainlandd daily on cargo ships, and the modern world’s technology isn’t at the forefront of reasons to go. There might be a lot of natural wonders, but the Galapagos Islands aren’t the place to go for long showers, a variety of specialty-diet friendly options, or a video chat with your friends, family, and co-workers at home
• The rhyme and reason of what you see when you go depend not only on the natural calendar of the wildlife but the ornate cycle of the natural world. During El Nino years things change dramatically, and during other times the climate dictates where the wild animals are gathering.
• Starbucks isn’t a thing here, but a little-known fact about the Galapagos is the corporation uses a specific blend from the islands in their shops around the world.
• On some of the more accomplished boats, there are doctors, accomplished naturalist guides, programs for families, groups, couples, solo travelers, and enthusiasts from across the board of interests.
• Every cruise itinerary has to include a stop at one of three visitor centers to give you the low down on how the islands were formed, their human history, and the importance of protecting the wildlife in the islands.
• Cruises have the advantage of being able to travel at night and visit a few sights each day-but some of the highlights of the islands- including Los Tuneles on Isabela and Chinese Hat, are off limits to big boats.
• Giant tortoises do the same on land, traversing from the highlands to the coast to lay their eggs before taking the leisurely multiple-week trip back up the hill to await your visit.
• Conservation isn’t something that you should take for granted-it’s an ongoing battle. Grants run out for non-profit foundations, the national park is stretched past its reserves, and cash is king when it comes to finding a balance between sustainable tourism and preserving the islands. Finding a good organization that gives back as much as it receives is paramount.
• The best things to pack are an open mind and a willingness to jump out of your comfort zone and into the wilderness. No matter how you travel, there is an element of roughing it in the mix-one that might change the way you think about the world around you.