The Galapagos Islands remain one of Earth's final untouched frontiers. The archipelago is a living museum of natural history--a mind boggling, foreign landscape where plants and animals have evlolved for centuries without human interference. Each isle houses remarkably different speciies of birds, reptiles and plants, juxtaposed over a contrast of dry, volcanic landschapes and plant-rich, larger-than-life backdrops. Each day in the Galapagos feels like a new chapter in your own personal "Choose Your Own Adventure" book, exploring the gotta-see-it-to-belive-it wonders of evoluntionary biology through hikes, photographic safaris, underwater adventures and zodiac boat rides.
Only a carefully controlled inventory of small ships and yachts are able to visit the islands, since 97 percent of its total landmass is protected as national parks.
TAKE A HIKE
With 97 percent of its total landmass protected as national parks and just three percent inhabited, only a carefully controlled inventory of small ships and yachts are able to island-hop this Darwinian fantasyland. Since ferries do not connect the islands and permits are required for landing on the majority of them, the principal method for visiting and exploring the Galápagos is by cruise ship.
Ships sail a variety of eastern, northern and western circuits in three-, four- and seven-night itineraries determined by the park service. In general, most ships make two stops daily, each one an ambush of the senses.
NORTH CENTRAL CIRCUIT
This exciting route journeys to six islands, starting with the archipelago’s northernmost, Genovesa (“Tower”) Island. Prepare to saturate memory cards with prize-worthy images of red-footed boobies, great frigate birds and short-eared owls. Home to more than 30 species, this “Bird Island” lives up to its nickname, and these fearless feathered friends have no qualms about introducing themselves and invading your personal space. You’ll also have the opportunity to snorkel the surrounding waters of Bahia Darwin (Darwin Bay) on the lookout for schools of vibrantly colored tropical fish and hammerhead sharks.
On Santiago Island, you’ll traverse the craggy lava-hewn coastline of Sullivan Bay, hiking across ethereal remnants of previous lava flows. Then, you’ll hop onto the zodiac, keeping an eye out for curious penguins and possibly whales on your way to the stunning red-rock landscapes of Rábida Island to search for Darwin’s finches and snorkel among fur seals, marine iguanas and reef sharks.
At Gardener Bay on Española Island, venture under the sea with the prolific sea lion population before visiting the nesting colonies of waved Galápagos Albatross at Punta Suárez. You’ll end the trip on the island of Santa Cruz, patronizing the Charles Darwin Research Station and honing your photography skills on the wild giant tortoises roaming the rolling hills.
This equally interesting route also visits six islands, several of which differ from the northern central route. You’ll begin the sojourn on Bartolomé, summiting the island to take in the grandeur of Pinnacle Rock, the triangular-shaped rock form that’s become an iconic symbol of the Galápagos. Next, you’ll visit green turtle nesting sites or snorkel the crystalline waters among schools of parrotfish, eagle rays and fur seals.
On Fernandina Island, gawk at the stunning arid landscape of one of the Galápagos’ largest volcanoes while blazing orange Sally Lightfoot crabs, flightless cormorants and charismatic marine iguanas ham it up for the lens.
Other highlights on this circuit include snorkeling with the penguins on Isabela Island and mailing postcards home from Post Office Bay on Floreana Island, an ancient yet functioning drop box. Zoom up close to a sea lion rookery aboard your zodiac, then head to Punta Cormorant to see some unlikely residents of the islands: pink flamingoes.
Regardless of the itinerary, these incredibly diverse, wildlife-rich islands and the dazzling waters in between never fail to impress. All routings yield supreme encounters with the Galápagos varied wildlife and surreal natural formations—and you’ll have the photos to prove it!