Newest Review: ... deal for most people that visit as it is not cheap. Expect to pay around £4,000 from the UK for a two week break - and as I mentioned it... more
Discover Darwin's Boobies : The Galapagos Islands.
Galapagos Islands (Ecuador)
Member Name: magenta23
Galapagos Islands (Ecuador)
Date: 06/11/13, updated on 06/11/13 (57 review reads)
Advantages: Wildlife you will see no where else on earth, knowledgeable guides, friendly locals, snorkelling.
Disadvantages: Hard work, very very hot, lots of hopping on and off boats and some heights - not for everyone.
Galapagos is a group of islands off the coast of Ecuador, in South America. The islands are famous for it's many endemic species and the part they played in Charles Darwin's research for his 'Origin of Species.'
Just a short flight, a boat and a jeep through the jungle : FLIGHTS AND TRANSFERS
We visited Galapagos on a package in which we spent a few days in Quito and Guayaquil on the mainland of Ecuador. This is quite common with trips to Galapagos as you will need to get a domestic flight from one of the mainland airports to San Cristobel, or more likely, Baltra airport and then a bus to the dock and a boat to your destination, most likely the island of Santa Cruz which houses The Charles Darwin Research Station and the main tourist area with shops, restaurants and hotels. We did the journey from dock to town by 4x4 and it was our first glimpse at the wonderful world of Galapagos. The collection of pelicans at the dock were our first wildlife spot and they would turn out to become very popular throughout the trip. The journey itself takes around 45 minutes going at a reasonable speed. After a long journey when you're hot, thirsty and tired it might have seemed like a chore anywhere else but that 45 minute journey is little a fast forward snapshot of what Galapagos is all about. From the beautiful coast, we pass seemingly endless fields of cactus up into the leafy highlands where the weather changes in the blink of an eye. Our guide tells us to look back down the road and you can see a clear line in the sky where the climate suddenly changes. Back down into the town on the other side and we are back in sunshine. Bizarre and amazing.
What to do for the best? : TOURISM IN GALAPAGOS
Tourism is growing to Galapagos and it's a difficult situation that the people find themselves in. The money is needed to keep the research going into it's unique wildlife and protect it's future so every penny spent from the visitors is welcomed. On the other hand, it's important to keep the tourism fairly modest and keep the unspoilt, non inhabited islands just that. I was surprised just how much there was in Puerto Ayora, the capital. It's not big, but there are a fair amount of tourist shops and bars. Thankfully, it's all fairly in keeping and no modern glass buildings or chain stores have appeared...yet. I guess I was expecting one or two shops and as many small hotels for visitors. People don't visit Galapagos to be pampered or for the night life, it's just not that sort of holiday but I guess the local people need amenities too.
There are a few hotels and we were lucky enough to stay in one of the nicest, Hotel Siberstein which is in the heart of Puerto Ayora and minutes from the Research Station. The hotels aren't the most modern, but the people will do everything they can to make you as happy and comfortable as possible. Of anywhere I've been I haven't met a community so friendly, proud and enthusiastic about where they live, and you can't help but see why.
I think we were lucky to find a package holiday in which we stayed on Santa Cruz and were able to explore a little on foot as we pleased. The vast majority of Galapagos holidays are cruises. True that an increase in ocean liners cruising around the islands isn't without its problems but it does tackle the problem of allowing people to see this amazing place without having the need to keep building in order to accommodate.
As you would imagine, the limit to tourism puts the cost up. This really is a once in a lifetime deal for most people that visit as it is not cheap. Expect to pay around £4,000 from the UK for a two week break - and as I mentioned it's unlikely the full itinerary will be spent on the islands.
Charles Darwin and what he tortoise : THE CHARLES DARWIN RESEARCH STATION
The one place everyone needs to visit is The Charles Darwin Research Station. We stayed round the corner and so visited here on our first afternoon and walked back in an amazing Galapagos sunset.
The station is a centre in which Ecuadorian and foreign scientists are constantly researching the islands incredible ecosystems and working on conservation projects to sustain it's future.
One of the most iconic animals associated with Galapagos is the Giant Tortoise. Here at the station they breed them an reintroduce them to their native island. There are a number of different species that have lived or do live on the islands and the aim is to keep every one going. We saw babies from six weeks old to the famous and recently deceased Lonesome George. He died last year and was known to be over 100 years old but his true age remains a mystery. The real tragedy of George's death was that he was the rarest animal in the world - the very last of his kind. I am so pleased to have seen him, though admittedly, not the best view. By then the celebrity lifestyle had taken it's toll and he preferred to chill out and the back of his enclosure rather than come up and see his adoring public.
Recently they have discovered on Pinta Island, the island George was native to, a surviving sub species of George so hopefully they can breed some cousins and keep a little of his legacy going.
Even without George, I recommend a visit to the station if you come to Galapagos. The guides are incredibly knowledgeable and I challenge you to pose them a question about the islands and wildlife that they don't know the answer to. It is good to visit early in your trip too, before you get out an experience the wildlife for yourself as it gives you some good history and background information and help to identify some of the species as you come across them.
Sun, Sharks and lots of boobies: No, not a low budget horror film, EXPLORING GALAPAGOS
Right you're off the explore and find those amazing species you've heard so much about up close. Got your camera, good comfy shoes, guide book, all set? Without trying to sound like your mother, make sure you slap on a shedload of sunblock and if you have one, one of those fetching hats with a string underneath (the boats get breezy.) I experienced the worst sunburn I have ever had on my first day out on the islands and it made me very uncomfortable for the rest of the trip (especially that itchy 11 hr flight where I was shedding faster than the island's reptiles). There is no shade and, once on the islands, little breeze either. Think about it, this is a place where some of the world's biggest cold blooded animals thrive, it's going to be a little toasty.
We visited three islands in total, Santa Cruz where we stayed, North Seymour and the tiny Plaza Island. These are relatively close together and we didn't venture as far a some of the bigger islands such as San Cristobel and Isabela which have a lot of the impressive volcanic scenery seen in many Galapagos documentaries. This is a shame, but it was simply a matter of time - whilst Galapagos doesn't seem vast, it would take most of a day by boat to get to some of the outer islands and as a lot are uninhabited, it's not something you are really able to do unless you do a cruise.
~Santa Cruz/Tortuga Bay~
The islands we saw house a lot of the most famous and impressive species, so whilst we didn't cover a lot of ground we saw an impressive amount of wildlife. If you're based on Santa Cruz, you don't have to go far to see some wildlife. On route to the Research Centre we saw a few marine iguanas sunning themselves by side of the road, but in order to see them on mass we took a long hot, but well worth it walk, (with guide of course) to Tortuga Bay... probably the most beautiful stretch of coast I've ever seen, with amazing sandy beach and mangroves. The less assuming wildlife is fascinating enough as you will often see tiny brightly coloured lava lizards scuttling along the paths and sandpipers scurrying in and out of the waves. If you love your animals as I do this will give you as much pleasure as seeing the 'headliners'. We walked through a sleeping mass of marine iguanas, oblivious and unbothered by this group of tourists cooing over them and taking photos. After our 5k walk we were rewarded by a dip in a secluded lagoon off the bay which was buoyant and cool and refreshing. I could have happily floated there forever.
Our trip to the highlands was less fruitful. We were in search of giant tortoises and it was torrential rain that afternoon (though quite possibly bright sunshine by the shore given the amazing 'double climate.') After a trek through some of the wooded areas and only a glimpse of a tortoise who was wisely tucked up, we thought it a pointless exercise and we arrived back at the bus to see one had decided to sit in the road and whilst it provided us with a good view, it had to be shooed on so we didn't run him over. It's probably the case most days and it might not seem to be worth visiting the highlands for the wildlife spotting, it's certainly worth it so see the variation in the Galapagos terrain.
This was the best place for seeing the main species. Before we'd got off the boat, a courting pair of Blue Footed Boobies were displaying on the rocks. The males have a mating dance in which they bring up their amazing bright blue feet and show the females just how colourful they are. You can't help be amused at these gorgeous but funny looking birds and the dance the males perform makes them seem even more bonkers, but I'm sure to the females it's irresistible. It certainly worked for one guy as we were in for a treat as we got off the boat to find a Blue Footed Booby very proudly showing off it's freshly laid egg to it's cooing public. It's truly amazing how accepting they are of humans. Every creature just carries on about it's business without a thought. It's refreshing that these animals have never thought to be cautious of us as they are so well protected here, I only hope they continue to be and never lose this as it's fantastic for us to see them so closely without causing any fear.
The islands visitors are permitted on, there are markers to show you where you can and can not step. You must stay with a guide at all times and they will quickly and firmly tell you if you step out of line. It goes without saying that only people who are truly going to respect these rules and indeed the animals themselves should visit Galapagos.
The boobies really are the stars of Seymour and as we continued around we were treated to more and more courtship displays. This is not to take away from the amazing and beautiful land iguanas that seemed to be lounging under every cactus and the aptly named 'Magnificent Frigatebird' and we were very very lucky to see a chick cuddling up to it's parents.
This small island is the place to go if you want a view of the gorgeous Galapagos Sealion. As we arrived on the island we saw a hareem complete with baby lounging on the shore. A little warning about the sealions, again these guys aren't scared of you and the males are big. If you see one lolloping towards you, you move quick as I did when a male decided the place I was standing was where he wanted to sunbathe. As striking as the bigger animals are the intriguingly named 'Sally Lightfoot crabs' that you will see scurrying around are just as fascinating. Bright bright organgey red, they are stunningly beautiful and I managed to get some fabulous photos of them again the black rocks.
This island isn't one for anyone suffering from vertigo. In order to see the amazing array of seabirds, you need to climb to the top and see them flying to and from the cliff face. We saw a good number of Nascar Boobies (cousins of the blue footed boobies but with a dark mask making them look like robbers), Black Terns, Common Noddys and Lava Gulls.
Of course, it's not just on land that the wildlife live. The marine life of Galapagos was the biggest revelation to me and gave me some of the most memorable moments of the trip and indeed, my life. The first brief but amazing encounter was a turtle poking it's head up from the waves right by our boat. I'd never seen one in the wild and as a favourite animal of mine, it's something I will never forget. Snorkelling is the best way to get close to the marine life, and we went snorkelling from the beach and straight from the boat. If you've ever been snorkelling and swum through a shoal of fish as they split and swim around you, you will know the buzz and joy of this activity. I was a snorkelling virgin before this holiday and I wished I'd started sooner! That was soon topped though, as I came face to face with a stunning Galapagos shark, inches from my nose. Scary for a second but we'd already been told that they are harmless so I kept by him for a few seconds but he soon out swam me. I'll never forget that though. Once in a lifetime.
Eating, Spending, Staying Safe : THE ESSENTIALS
The food we had on Galapagos was excellent, though I think our particular hotel was trying to appeal to our tastes slightly. The breakfasts were the real star of the show as the amazing fresh fruits here are what I will remember most food wise. Seafood is also very good as you would expect and if you are staying on Santa Cruz, make sure you visit the dock around 5pm as the boats come in. The fisherman gut the fish at the dock in case you were in any doubt of the freshness, but more that that it's become somewhat of a tourist must see as there are a few cheeky sealions and pelicans trying there luck to snatch what they can.
Don't drink the water - bottled stuff only and as always be careful with salads etc. We didn't have any trouble with tummy problems but better to be safe.
Currency is dollars and on the islands, souvenirs and the like can be on the pricey side, though is worth a haggle if there is something you like. There is a small market in Puerto Ayora near the dock where some things can be picked up a little cheaper.
Check with you doctor before you go. I only needed one shot prior to my holiday though you may need precautions against things such as Hepatitus A, Diphtheria, Tetanus and Typhoid.
There isn't much I can say about booking trips, getting around etc as most tourist activity here is all arranged trips and package holidays.
To go or not to go?
Galapagos is probably one of those places most people will never go and the ones lucky enough to will only go once. Maybe given the need to protect this unique habitat, that's the way it should be : only one go each. On a selfish note though, if I ever got the chance to revisit I wouldn't hesitate. My trip to Galapagos was the best holiday I have ever had and, I imagine, will ever have. There truly is nowhere else like it and it you love wildlife, it's THE place to go. That said if you don't it really won't be your thing because that's the draw here. There are plenty of other sunny islands to go to if you just want somewhere tropical to relax and chill out, probably for half the price - leave Galapagos for those that really want it. This is also a holiday for people of a reasonable fitness who are good with boats and can handle a good dose of heat. It's hard work, but worth it? For me, no doubt.
For more info visit the website of this great charity : Galapagos Wildlife Trust -
Summary: The ultimate holiday for wildlife junkies: Like nowhere else on Earth