What to do in The Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands are renowned for their beauty and diversity, over 150,000 visitors a year come to explore this unique archipelago. One of the things that makes the Galapagos Islands so special is that they are located so far from the mainland. This means many species can only be found on the islands and that some of the ecosystems have not changed since prehistoric times. The islands are located on the equator where three ocean currents meet, this creates a rich ecosystem that can support large amounts of life.
The best way to appreciate the wildlife and landscapes is to get outside and get up close and personal with it. Your days start early as it is when the birds and animals are the most active, before the midday heat. Activities in the Galapagos are all about exploring the environment and watching a variety of wildlife. To spot the land-based animals your naturalist guide will take you hiking across the islands where you will see land iguanas and giant turtles. The hikes will also enable you to discover the unique and varied terrain of the islands, like the prickly pear cactus forests or the volcanic lava flows.
There are many scenic walking trails in the Galapagos. No matter how you plan to visit, on a cruise or via a land-based tour, you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy them. Many excursions include shorter guided nature walks, but you’ll find longer trails and a variety of walks to do on your own. On Santa Cruz Island, a fabulous self-guided day walk to Tortuga Bay leads from the southwest edge of town to a long white beach, winding through scrubby forest for about two miles. At the far end of the beach, you’ll find a lagoon ideal for snorkelling or swimming as well as spotting wildlife like marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, flamingos, finches, brown pelicans, and Sally Lightfoot crabs, amongst others. Isabela offers one of the best hikes, following a trail along the rim of the Volcan Chico, bringing views of steaming fumaroles, a variety of birds, and Galapagos giant tortoises.
A world-class destination for those who want to see wildlife underwater, the Galapagos Islands are known for their opportunities to snorkel alongside sea lions and marine iguanas, amongst other wildlife. There’s no need to be a certified diver as snorkelling will get you up close to it all. You can even snorkel in volcanic calderas. There are spectacular sites throughout the archipelago with many different options, including Isabela, home to a large sea lion population. The animals are often in the water right off the beach or pier and you may be able to snorkel near the Galapagos penguins that sit on the rocks and dart through the water like little bullets. On San Cristobal, Las Tijeratas is another great spot where you’ll be surrounded by green sea turtles and sea lions. Penguins, turtles, and sea lions are common at Bartholome’s Pinnacle Rock, and you can snorkel right off the beach.
If you don’t want to get into the water by snorkelling or diving to see the marine life, you can do it by glass-bottom boat. Look down on vibrant coral reefs and watch for a sea turtle or the Galapagos penguin to whiz by. You’ll get up close and personal to it all without having to put on a wetsuit. Radiba island is popular for glass-bottom boat rides, with sea lions pirouetting right beneath the waves. It’s easy to admire the antics of cormorants that dive for their meals and see marine iguanas who have evolved to live here on the islands without freshwater, soaking up the Pacific waves, filtering out the salt instead of enjoying a drink. If you’re on a cruise, many vessels include glass-bottom boats for their passengers who want to stay dry while watching the wildlife.
Visit the Charles Darwin Research Station
You can visit the Charles Darwin Research Station set in a prickly pear cactus forest. The Station is the hub for conservation on the Galapagos Islands since it was created in 1964. Over 200 scientists and volunteers are based here, all working to preserve this unique archipelago. The Station offers guests the chance to learn about habitats and why the islands are so important. The station also has a tortoise centre where you can walk amongst the many different breeds who live there. They also breed baby tortoises, keeping them safe until they are old enough to be released into the wild.
Hike the Sierra Negra Volcano
You can hike up the active Sierra Negra Volcano, one of five active volcanoes on Isabela island. It last erupted in 2018 and you will hike up to the second-largest volcanic crater in the world. The trek starts in lush green terrain filled with wildlife, you will trek up to the rim of the caldera which is an impressive 6 miles wide, before continuing to the area where the lava flows and the steam comes out of thermal vents. It is a 16km hike and takes 5-6 hours.
This is a wonderful way to explore the coastline of the many islands of the Galapagos. You can approach the wildlife silently, so they carry on their natural behaviours and you can watch the sea lions, penguins and sea birds. You will also be able to see the wildlife under the water, sea turtles, sharks and even the rays. Many of the boats (like La Pinta) have kayaks on board and guests can head out from the boat to explore. The calm waters of the Galapagos make it easy to paddle, even for beginners.
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