The Galapagos Islands are world famous for their beautiful, unique animal life, the vastly different climates of the islands, and Charles Darwin’s scientific discoveries there as documented in his groundbreaking work, On the Origin of Species. The Galapagos Islands, situated 906 kilometers off the western coast of Ecuador, are comprised of 21 islands. Being so geographically isolated for centuries has, evolutionarily speaking, created some of the most unique animal life on the planet. Some species found on the Galapagos can be found nowhere else in the world. These creatures are reminiscent of a lost world, colorful ancestors of dragons that call this isolated meca home. These animals can be found on the islands where, depending on the location in the ocean, climate ranges from wet rainforest to barren volcanic islands. Traveling to the Galapagos Islands is a once in a lifetime experience found on the bucket list of many travelers. Check out our best advice tips for traveling to this magical, mysterious land.
Truly unique and beautiful, the Galapagos Islands consist of 21 islands all with varying terrains and species.
Critters of the Galapagos Islands
Famously, Charles Darwin focused his research on these islands because of the unique species found here. Several species of iguanas including the Galapagos land iguana and marine iguana can be found on the shores of the ocean and on the cliffs surrounding. These creatures, evolved over millennia to survive in this harsh, rocky, climate, are unlike iguanas anywhere else on the planet. It is common to see the yellow marine iguana basking in the sun. You can also expect to see sea lions basking in the sun, too. Check out the Concha de Perla on San Isabel Island or swim with the sea lions off San Cristobal Island.
A sea lion basks in the white sands while a lizard investigates on the rock nearby.
While you are in the water, you will be sure to see schools of colorful fish, manta rays, and other marine life. Arguably the most famous animal to call the Galapagos home, the Galapagos Giant tortoise, is the largest tortoise in the world, weighing up to 417 kilograms.
The Galapagos Tortoise is the largest tortoise in the world.
Another critter you can view on the Islands are the Galapagos Penguins. This animal can survive on the Galapagos Islands thanks to the cool currents brought in from the Arctic and Pacific oceans, and it is the only penguin species found north of the equator in the world. You have the best chance to see penguins in Isabela or Fernandina Islands. While in this curious place, you may also see the green sea turtle, hoards of bird varieties, flamingos, sharks, dolphins, and more.
A penguin suns off on a rock before plunging into the cold currents of the Galapagos Islands.
Tourism on the Islands
Some are surprised to hear that there are towns on the Galapagos Islands with restaurants, hotels, tour companies, and locals. The three main islands are San Cristobal Island, Isabela Island, and Santa Cruz Island. Be advised: this once in a lifetime experience doesn’t come cheap, so cut costs where you can! Traveling to the island involves airfare to Ecuador and then a ticket to Santa Cruz island, as well as transport in boats or ferries to the various islands in Galapagos. For this reason, budget planning in advance is a must to get the most bang for your buck! Certain costs, like the $100+ conservation fee at the airport in Santa Cruz, are not negotiable, so take advantage of flexible travel dates, budget accommodations or hostels, and participate in self guided tours when possible. Some budget hotels have received truly shocking reviews, even for a well seasoned traveler. Know your comfort level, and remember, you are not spending too much time in your hotel anyways. You’re at the Galapagos Islands! Book early, and do your research. Check TripAdvisor or Booking.com to make sure you are staying somewhere that meets your comfort level. Tourists will find their cheaper, nicer budget hotels months in advance, so secure your spot early. Airbnb is also a viable option while traveling in the islands. Expect to spend between $35-$60 USD on a budget room.
Sunrise over San Cristobal, (Photo credit Iris Diensthuber, Wikimedia Commons)
Many hostels and hotels on the islands can help plan day trips, rent our snorkel and other equipment, and can give recommendations for food, dining, and “best practices” while traveling. There is not great Wifi on the islands, so come prepared with a plan. Also know that, depending on the island, it could be hard to get cash, so it’s better to be over prepared than caught without! Once you have your plan, get ready for the time of your life full of tropical sunsets, stunning vistas, outdoor entertainment, fascinating animals, and more fresh seafood than you can imagine. This unique destination is the best of both worlds: relaxing retreat and endless adventure.
Snorkeling with sea critters is a must while visiting the Galapagos Islands.
Be Mindful of Our Impact
The Galapagos Islands are, like almost everywhere else on the planet, suffering from the wear and tear of tourism. The islands are loved to death in a lot of ways, and species like the Galapagos Giant Tortoise are suffering the impacts of environmental degradation. Cruise ships are a convenient way to travel to all the islands, but with such convenience also comes fragmentation of ecosystems, pollution of water, and increased footfalls on the fragile landscapes. Many tour companies do not follow eco-friendly practices, and it is always best to research companies or read reviews on travel sites like TripAdvisor or personal travel blogs before committing to a tour experience. Be aware of your consumption, always gather your trash, and, when applicable, clean up any waste you may see near the waters. This small gesture will go a long way in preserving the integrity of the islands and the protection of the animals in a fragile, constantly changing environment. With a place as stunning, special, and unique as this, it is the duty of travelers to protect and respect. Check out the Galapagos Conservancy to learn more about conservation efforts on the islands and volunteer opportunities.
Development on the islands can threaten the species who call this place home. Be mindful and respectful while traveling here! (Photo credit Iris Diensthuber, Wikimedia Commons)
No matter how you chose to see the Galapagos Islands, adventure awaits. Be prepared to see life changing creatures, stunning views, and bask in this little corner of the world traveled to by so few comparatively to the rest of the world. This mystical land has captivated humans for centuries, and, with the compassionate work of long term travelers and nature lovers alike, it will continue to inspire for years to come.
Kathleen Goodwin is a writer and educator from the United States. Over the past year, she spent four months backpacking through 16 of America’s national parks and traveled for three months in India and Nepal, and she is already scheming and dreaming of her next trip. She loves travel because of the opportunity it presents to experience new cultures, meet new people, and eat new foods. She enjoys reading, writing, practicing yoga, gardening, and hiking. She lives in Missoula, Montana, with her husband Zack and their dog Sadie. Connect with her online at her website, thegoodwinlife.com, or on Instagram @kdgoodwin11.