Despite the islands’ proximity to the equator for which Ecuador is named, these islands are far from the tropical flop and drop destinations popular with many holidaymakers. In fact, the islands themselves have a somewhat barren extra-terrestrial appearance. Nonetheless, these 13 major volcanic islands and seven smaller islands that make up the Galapagos archipelago are home to an immense range of biodiversity.
Here you’ll find extraordinary numbers of species that are found nowhere else on earth – over 30% of the plants, around 80% of the land birds, and 97% of reptiles and land mammals. Among the many unique species here are the Galapagos penguin and the Galapagos tortoise.
And that’s not even counting the amazing underwater action. Scuba divers love the Galapagos for its abundance of turtles, rays, mantas, seals, sea lions, sharks and fish.
Keeping the human footprint to a minimum is a major priority here, despite the growing number of people choosing to make their home among the islands. But as 97% of the islands are designated as national park, they have to squeeze into the remaining 3% - so you can still steer well clear of the hustle and bustle if all you want to encounter is the local flora and fauna.
Places to Visit in the Galapagos Islands
- The western islands of Isabela and Fernandina
- The southern islands of Floreana and Espanola
- Santiago and Santa Cruz
- San Cristobal
Unique Things to See and Do in the Galapagos Islands
- Relax on the white sand beaches at Cerro Brujo and Gardiner Bay
- Hike to the caldera of 1,124 metre Sierra Negra – a shield volcano
- Encounter 100-year-old tortoises in Santa Cruz
- Discover the underwater world of Isolte Champion
- Search for booby colonies on Genovesa and San Cristobal
Conservation in the Galapagos
There are many challenges associated with the conservation of the Galapagos Islands and the wide variety of species that call them home.
Not in the least is the growing number of people that have chosen to move there in order to capitalise on the burgeoning tourism industry since the 1970s. Between 1999 and 2005 the population grew a considerable 60%.
This uncontrolled spike in residents was identified as a major issue by the World Heritage Centre and IUCN, prompting them to place the region on a list of World Heritage Sites in Danger in 2007.
But the government had already implemented a number of measures before this move in order to protect the islands. The then President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, issued an emergency decree to ensure the future of the “at risk” islands by clamping down on tourism permits and returning some residents to the mainland and working to control the spread of invasive species.
The measures must have had some impact for UNESCO decided to remove the Galapagos from the “in danger” list in 2010.
Getting Around the Galapagos Islands
As with many chains of islands, the best way to get around is by boat. You can snap up a place on one of the many cruises that last either four days and three nights or 12 days and 11 nights which cater to travellers of all budgets. You’ll sail by night and explore by day.
Alternatively, you can hop ashore and stay in one of the handful of hotels to be found on the islands of Santa Cruz or San Cristobal. If you go for this option, you’ll take day trips to the neighbouring islands to discover the amazing wildlife.
Best Time of Year to Travel to the Galapagos Islands
Although popular all year round, the summer months of June to September see a rise in the number of visitors to the Galapagos. However, the national park does limit the number of visitors to each of the islands in an effort to protect them. As a result, you must be sure to make your travel plans well in advance.
Did you know…?
The Galapagos penguin is the only penguin species to be found in the Northern Hemisphere.
Did you ALSO know…?
The Galapagos is second only to the Great Barrier Reef National Park of Australia in terms of the size of the marine area protected.
But the winter months of June through to November tend to bring larger numbers of fish and seabirds such as albatrosses and penguins. Colder water and cooler land temperatures come hand in hand with rougher seas and stronger winds, but there is actually less rainfall during this period.
Ready to plan your visit to Galapagos? Check out these popular guides and trips.