About 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador lies the famous Galapagos Archipelago. It is well known for the rich marine biodiversity and the historic research conducted there by Charles Darwin in 1835. Darwin researched the unique animals that inhabited the Galapagos observing the similarities from island to island, but noting how they were able to adapt to the different environments. His work was consolidated into the famous book 'On the Origin of Species' and ever since, his name has been closely tied to the island chain. This remains one of the exceptional places in the world where it is still possible to have personal encounters with giant tortoises, marine iguanas, hammerheads, penguins, and a vast array of maritime creatures.
The Galapagos Islands are widely recognized for their conservation efforts and dedicated support for ecotourism. Here is what not to miss when you visit these incredible islands:
El Chato Tortoise Reserve
The Galapagos Islands are celebrated for being a living laboratory for evolution where changes and natural selection can be observed through adaptive physical characteristics of species over time. The resident variety of giant tortoises who live well over 150 years have been closely observed over the last several decades and key distinctions have emerged between the creatures based on their access to food on each island. These incredible species have also made a remarkable comeback in population size due to conservation and protection efforts over the last 30 years. Meet these extraordinary tortoises at several reserves around the island!
World Class Diving
From the Great Barrier Reef to the Red Sea, locations around the world compete for prominence within the diving community. The Galapagos absolutely belongs near the top of the list as one of the diving Mecca's of the world! Whether divers are searching for schools of hammerhead sharks, massive eagle mantra rays, or the unique marine iguanas that are exclusive to the Galapagos, this is a dream destination. Some of the conditions at the various locations may be challenging for new divers with the cold waters and strong currents, but the unparalleled aquatic life makes it worth it!
Snorkel with penguins and sea lions
Even if diving is not for you, there is plenty of incredible access to getting up close and personal with the marine wildlife while snorkeling at the local bays and surrounding islands. Pinzon island remains one of the most popular destinations to hang out with giant sea turtles, swim over bays filled with white-tipped sharks, catch glimpses of the elusive marine iguanas feeding on algae underwater, and see the warm-weather penguins taking a dip. The absolute favorite part of the trip for me though was a chance for interacting with the playful sea lions who were happy to imitate every underwater dive and backflip. The curious and absolutely adorable sea creatures had no hesitation to swim right up to check out their new friends and happily join in on the diving shenanigans.
Eco friendly tourism
The Galapagos tourism industry is structured to protect the environment including the government's limit on the number of travelers permitted on the islands and the overall ban on plastic. This helps to limit a rapid expansion of tourism and contributes to the long-term objectives of protecting the natural environment and the local wildlife.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the islands are the daily close encounters with all the local animals. From walking out of the airport doors to casual strolls around Puerto Ayora any time of day, chances are high for passing by iguanas or sea lions stretched out for a peaceful nap or posing for the new visitors.
Swim at Las Grietas
Visit the natural beauty of Las Grietas, which roughly translates to 'crevices' or 'cracks'. Las Grietas is fed underground by a river from one end and saltwater from the other end, which makes its way into the small canyon through the cracks that connect Las Grietas to the sea. While there are plenty of tour options to visit these towering lava cliffs, it is just as simple and far more cost-effective to go on your own without a tour group. Catch a small water taxi from the main port to Finch Bay/Las Grietas for $1 USD and about 10 minutes, follow the local marked trail for about 10-15 minutes past Finch Bay Hotel, and then you will arrive at the National Park. From there each visitor must pay $10 USD to enter the park and will be guided through the terrain to the unique blue and green waters. Go as early as possible after the 7am opening to avoid the groups of tourists that quickly fill the narrow space.
Charles Darwin Research Station
Just outside the main town of Puerto Ayora sits the Charles Darwin Foundation and its Research Station. The station works to support a sustainable Galapagos through research, conservation actions and providing visitors a chance to learn about the conservation in action efforts across the islands.
The basics before going:
Plan ahead- the government limits the number of travelers permitted on the islands, so be sure to book several months ahead to secure a spot.
Currency- USD are widely accepted throughout Ecuador and the Galapagos. It is also easy to use credit cards and/or pull dollars from ATMs.
No visas are necessary to enter Ecuador. However, tourist visas are necessary to enter the Galapagos Islands which varies in cost depending the duration of the stay and can be purchased prior to boarding the flight into the Galapagos and an additional $100 USD in cash is required upon landing for entry. If you do not have cash, there is an ATM available on site.
Electric outlets are the same as the US. Some limited EU outlets are also available at hotels.
COVID Testing requirements- a negative PCR test within 72 hours of arrival into Ecuador is required for vaccinated travelers. Vaccine cards and tests are frequently checked at the airport and on tours, so have them on hand (digital copies are accepted). If you require a COVID test for your return flight or next destination, there are several options in Puerto Ayora. The Red Cross (Cruz Roja) in Puerto Ayora offers antigen tests (necessary for entry into the U.S.) for $40 USD that takes about 30 minutes to receive the results.