When Charles Darwin boarded Robert FitzRoy’s HMS Beagle in 1831 he had no idea he’d be permanently changing the course of human knowledge. Merely interested in documenting his passion for nature, Darwin arrived at the Galapagos Island chain four years later, finding the weather-worn volcanic cones, an indigenous people and a unique variety of animal species to be found nowhere else on Earth. What he saw in his 5 weeks there would end up critically changing the way people view all of the world’s creatures. This would come to be great news for future evolutionists!
Today, the Galapagos Islands are no less mesmerizing for the common visitor. Many of the same species found in Darwin’s era still exist and can be seen waddling around in their natural habitat. Giant tortoise, penguin, cormorant and flamingos, marine iguana all cohabitate in enclaves around the islands creating a sightseer and photographer’s playground. Other creatures to write home about, from hammerheads to manta ray, can be found under the chilly blue waters.
Located 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean, the isolation of these 13 main and 5 minor islands have given notoriety to some of the world most unique species, most rather indifferent to their human gatecrashers. Visiting is a near-requirement if you have a taste for the varieties of the natural world.
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There are two airports by which to reach the archipelago, one on the island of Baltra and one on San Cristobàl. Daily flights leave from Quito, travel via Guayaquil and can be added into any South American itinerary fairly easily.
Many people don’t realize that it is in fact possible to visit the Galapagos independently. The best way is to fly into the one of the main airports, taxi to a hotel or hostel choice on Santa Cruz or San Cristobàl and arrange for organized day trips into the wildlife upon arrival. Certainly the DIY method is the cheaper option but does leave it up to personal wherewithal to get to the places worth seeing. Accommodations can range between $35 and $500 per night depending on your desired level of comfort.
Don’t forget, the Galapagos are gaining in popularity and boats and tours have the tendency to book out far ahead of time. It’s recommended you book a tour well before you arrive, months if possible, to avoid disappointment getting to see the flora and fauna.
While it is possible to show up on the islands without a booked tour and still have an interesting time, organized boat tours are a very popular option as boats don’t allow for large numbers of visitors at any given time—smaller numbers allow for discrete and intimate viewing. The boat tours can be somewhat expensive, anywhere between $1500 and $3000 for overnight options but come all-inclusive with meals and beds. Most of the best cruises book up months in advance so you should really set them up as soon as you know you’re going.
If you’ve always wanted to visit these magical islands but thought it was too complicated, think again. One side trip flight from Ecuador will get you there. Currently Baltra is not listed in Trip Planner but flights will typically add around $450-500 to an around-the-world itinerary. If you’d like to see how much it is to add an excursion to the Galapagos to your particular trip, feel free call one of our Travel Consultants for more accurate pricing.
Otherwise you can book an airfare inclusive package that will bring you from Guayaquil to the islands to snorkel and see the animals without having to deal with the complicated arrangements on your own. Frommers.com has a solid list of tour companies that do this package.