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Galapagos Travel Guide: Hopping the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Galapagos Islands

Discover a Paradise of Extraordinary Creatures A beautiful collection of islands filled with breathtaking sceneries and adventure, the Galapagos gained great fame when Charles Darwin discovered its astonishing variety of colorful plants and animals during his journeys, later spawning his ground-breaking theory on evolution in 1831. The Galapagos Islands are located on the Nazca Plate, one of the most active volcanic regions on earth, just a few hundred miles west of Ecuador and contain several animal species not found anywhere else.

Travel to the Galapagos

The best time to travel to the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador is from January to March when the weather typically remains at a comfortable temperature around 70-88°F. The Galapagos Islands hold many great surprises for traveling singles, couples, and families alike. While it is among the most popular destinations for scuba divers, sea kayakers, and other active outdoor adventurers, this is also the perfect travel spot for any traveler searching for unique surroundings with the most exquisite wonders of nature you won’t find anywhere else.

There are many spectacular sights and sounds in store for you on your Galapagos travel adventure, you’ll want to see as much of the 19 enchanting Galapagos Islands as you can during your stay. To make the most of your time, you can take a Galapagos cruise that will hop from island to island, allowing you to explore the sights and sounds of each place at your leisure. Check with your travel agent to find the best Galapagos cruise or boat charter that will match your personal pace and interests in exploring the islands. Remember that the overall experience will be more enjoyable if you take your time rather than rush to see everything in a short amount of time.

San Cristobal Island Begin your Galapagos journey on San Cristobal, which is approximately a two-hour flight from Quito, Ecuador. Originally named after Christopher Columbus, it is the second most populated island in the Galapagos and continues to be a very charming spot with different things to see and do. Choose from many types of fun activities – you can rent a mountain bike to explore the trails, sunbathe on the warm beach or snorkel in the radiant, blue waters near the shore. If you’re a scuba enthusiast, you can join a diving tour to discover an underwater world full of incredible creatures. Galapagos is one of the very few places left in the world virtually free of commercial fishing, providing an extraordinary opportunity for those who love to watch sea creatures in their natural environment.

Travel to the Galapagos

If you’re an avid birdwatcher, El Junco Lagoon, the only freshwater lagoon in the Galapagos, is the perfect place to catch sight of various tropicbirds and the Chatham Mockingbird, an endemic species commonly found on San Cristobal. Or perhaps you’d enjoy a brief ride on a “panga” (motorized raft), where you’ll be able to enjoy a stunning view and take some great photos out on the water. Take the walking trail from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno to Cerro de las Tijeretas, a nesting ground for a number of Frigate bird species. On the northwest coast, visit Puerto Grande, a lovely protected cove. The sandy beach is an ideal location for swimming and snorkeling, and you can also spot several of the Galapagos boobies and Galapagos tortoises living in the wild. Tourists also enjoy Kicker Rock, an amazing rock formation rising 500 feet from the ocean that is a remnant of a lava cone eroded by the sea.

Travel to the Galapagos

Española (Hood) Island One of the oldest of the Galapagos Islands, Española has a flat landscape and an outstanding variety of wildlife along its cliffs and sand and pebble beaches. Start at Punta Suarez on the western side of the island, where you’ll be surrounded by curious mockingbirds, colonies of blue-footed boobies, brilliantly colored marine iguanas, and oversized lava lizards. Take a leisurely walk down the trail to the cliff’s edge, and you’ll find many intriguing wild animals walking around or hidden in nearby bushes. Punta Suarez is also the site of a remarkable blowhole (underwater lava tube), which shoots streams of water up to 70 feet in the air. Be sure to spend some time in Gardner Bay, the eastern beach area often frequented by a fleeting colony of sea lions and marine turtles. Tortuga Bay, located off the shore, is a great place for swimming and snorkeling with the sea lions – a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity you won’t want to miss on your Galapagos vacation.

Floreana (Santa Maria) Island Just a four-hour boat ride from Española Island, Floreana is one of the few of the Galapagos Islands with a reliable supply of freshwater, an artisan spring at the base of Cerro Olympus. The island contains lavas dating back more than 1 million years and has often been associated with whalers, pirates, buccaneers, convicts, and colonists. Begin at Punta Cormorant, a landing beach composed of olivine crystals, and follow a brief walking trail to a lovely white sand beach, where green sea turtles lay their eggs in the fall season. As you walk between the two beaches, you’ll find dozens of beautiful pink flamingoes swimming alongside white-cheeked pintails, stilts, and other wading birds in the salt lagoon.

Travel to the Galapagos

Photo by TravelSense Community Member Shady Ady

Another attraction of Floreana Island is Puerto Velasco Ibarra, a tiny coastal town. Many tourists are excited to visit the area (also known as “Black Beach”) to see the Wittmer family, who are descendants of the original settlers. They have been made famous through many books and articles written about their family and the mysterious incidents occurring in the town. The Devil’s Crown, an eroded volcanic cone, is another interesting site on Floreana. It is a popular roosting site for seabirds such as boobies and pelicans, and the center of the crown is a popular snorkeling spot full of sea lions and colorful fish.

Isabela Island Isabela is by far the biggest island in the Galapagos and home to five volcanoes, although most of them are no longer active. Once you arrive, you can look forward to a very laid-back, relaxing experience in the town of Puerto Villamil. With long white-sand beaches lined with palm trees, Villamil is often revered as the most beautiful site in the Galapagos. Behind Villamil are several water lagoons that are home to the best migratory bird viewing in the Galapagos. Visit Las Tintoreras Lagoon, where tourists can take a walking trail to observe the white-tipped shark and other wildlife. You can also take a whale-watching boat tour along the Bolivar Channel, which runs between Fernandina and Isabela. Another noteworthy site in southern Isabela is the Volcan Sierra Negra, a huge mountain that contains the world’s second largest crater (6 miles wide by 4.5 miles across).

Travel to the Galapagos

Photo by TravelSense Community

Santa Cruz Island In the northern part of the island is the town of Puerto Ayora, where boaters get their supplies and visitors have the opportunity to visit souvenir shops and small markets. Nearby is the Charles Darwin Research Station, an information center with its own museum dedicated to scientific research that will ensure the preservation of the environment and biodiversity in the Galapagos. It also has a tortoise breeding program and is home to Lonely George, the famed tortoise that many tourists flock here to see. Hike through the highlands and admire red, orange, and yellow birds playing with the blooming flora, curious land iguanas, and unique tropical fruits. Then see Los Gemelos, two impressive volcanic depressions on the highest part of Santa Cruz. Another point of interest is the lava tubes that have formed underground tunnels over time. The most frequently visited one is the “Tunnel of Endless Love,” which has a heart-shaped hole in the roof.

Santa Fe Island Unlike many of the other islands formed by volcanic eruptions, Santa Fe Island was formed by an uplift caused by tectonic activity. Its picturesque cove features a turquoise lagoon protected by a peninsula of rocks and small islands that extends from the shore. Hike or bike the coastline trail and discover colorful flora and fauna. The well-known land iguanas here grow over five feet long and have uncommonly large spikes on their spines. The Opuntia cactus grows up to 33 feet high and is the largest of its kind in Galapagos. You can swim in the calm, green waters in the beautiful bay, snorkel along with the sea lions at the base of the rocks or rent a kayak to explore the area on your own. Plan a visit to El Chato Reserve and see the Galapagos tortoises (weighing up to 600 pounds) roam freely in their natural habitat. Hiking, horseback and motor-driven tours are available for visitors to get close to the giant tortoises and admire a number of tropicbirds and plants along the path.

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