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Galapagos Islands

Galapagos Islands travel guide

They inspired Darwin and they enthrall wildlife-watchers with their fearless animals. The Galápagos Islands are a dream destination for anyone curious about the natural world

The remote Galápagos archipelago was discovered in 1535, and named Las Encantadas (The Enchanted Isles) by passing Spanish seafarers. Charles Darwin's survey voyage aboard the HMS Beagle  and later publication of The Origin of Species helped cement the Galápagos Islands' reputation as a magical land.

Straddling the equator 1,000km west of mainland Ecuador, the Galápagos Islands were pushed up out of the Pacific by volcanic eruptions around five million years ago; the younger islands remain very active. The scenery is arid along the coast, with lush, forested highlands and turquoise lagoons, while the beaches are some of the finest in the world.

These unique climatic conditions, combined with the lack of dangerous predators, few human inhabitants and protected status, make this Pacific paradise an utterly unique wildlife destination.

Evolving in the isolated Galápagos, the animals are fearless: here you can walk among reptiles and swim with sea lions, watch iguanas sit motionless on black lava, step over nesting boobies, be licked by curious seal pups and come face to face with giant tortoise.

Wanderlust recommends

  1. Dock at little-visited Genovesa to see the biggest colony of red-footed boobies, plus frigatebirds and tropicbirds
  2. Walk amid the land iguanas and prickly pears of South Plaza
  3. Stop in at the Charles Darwin Research Centre, Santa Cruz, to visit the captive breeding programme for tortoises
  4. Climb the peak on Bartolomé islet for the ultimate view of the archipelago, then snorkel with penguins and white-tip reef sharks
  5. Kayak around the mangrove lagoon of Elizabeth Bay, Isabela Island, to get close to turtles, sea lions and penguins
  6. Hike over the lava at Punta Espinosa to see the largest congregation of marine iguanas

Wanderlust tips

Consider taking/hiring a wetsuit so that you can snorkel for longer if the water is chilly. You can choose between three-night, four-night or seven-night cruises – try to stay for a full week: much of the first and last day is spent travelling, so on a four-day trip you will only get two full days actually exploring the islands.

The best three visitor sites are on Española, Genovesa and Fernandina – pick an itinerary that includes these islands. Specialist cruises – for divers, bird-watchers, anglers etc – are available.

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