Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands

Location : off the coast of Equador
Famous for: Wildlife & the inspiration for Darwin’s evolutionary theory
When to go: Any time of year, have a look at the wildlife you want to see most and check when they are most prevalent, for instance you may want to see the frigate birds in their breeding season, or like wise the blue footed boobies during their mating dance…

Cost: between £2,000 and £6,000 per person although you could pay more for a more exclusive trip.
Temperature: average around 30 degrees all year round
Distance from the UK: approximately 13 hours depending on carrier
Time difference from UK:  6 hours behind
What you will see: Sea lions, fur seals, marine iguana, land iguana, blue footed boobies, frigate birds, albatross, turtles, rays, whales, giant tortoise, and many, many more rare/unique bird and animal species depending on the route you take around the islands.

So, Galapagos is an explorers dream, great for birds and wildlife in equal measure and really is a place to see before you die. The Galapagos Islands are a protected group of islands off the coast of Equador, and have been protected for so long that the wildlife shows no fear of human presence. But don’t worry, there are no dangerous species, so you are safe and will always be accompanied by a guide to ensure that you stay that way.

This is not a beach holiday, if that’s what you are looking for, then this is not the place to go. You will see glorious beaches everyday, striking coastlines and cliffs, but you won’t be lying around on them as many of them are protected nesting areas.

The Galapagos Islands are truly unique as each of the islands has it’s own endemic flora and fauna. There are some species that are common to all of the islands, but many variations which is why this magical place was Charles Darwins’ inspiration for the evolution theory. Some of the Islands are young in geographical terms and look relatively bleak, but trust me, the minute you step on land you will see that even the most volcanic islands are teeming with life.

There is only one island you can stay on, Santa Cruz, but the best way to see this glorious region is by boat or cruise ship. You get a lot of choice on the type and the size of the boat/ship and your choice will have a large impact on the cost of the holiday. The smallest boats have an occupancy of 14 people + crew and tend to be very pretty sail boats, whereas you can go for a larger cruise ship option with an occupancy of up to 100 people. To help you choose, the benefits for each are as follows: Large ships have more amenities, more luxuries and more space, but they are less manoeuvrable and therefore they are restricted to a certain area of the islands due to their size. The smaller boats offer a more intimate experience, and a closer knit travel group, but space is sacrificed to achieve this. The smaller boats are more agile an can get into the less explored regions of the Galapagos Islands, but you won’t find any pools on deck or sun loungers. As for cost, the smaller boats tend to be more expensive, but you can say the same for the larger ships if you choose to opt for a luxurious trip. We opted for the more intimate experience and traveled on a small sailboat boat called the ‘Cachalote’ with 15 passengers and about the same crew. Alternatively, if you are averse to boats, you can base yourself in one of the hotels on Santa Cruz and take smaller speed boat trips out to the islands on a daily basis. However your exploration area will be extremely limited if you choose this route.

The holiday itinerary: You will always be encouraged to stay a night in the capital of Equador (Quito) as, should your luggage be delayed for any reason, if you get onto a boat on the islands without it, they will have no way of reuniting you with it. But this is actually a good way to start the holiday as there are plenty of things to see in the capital and the hotels are generally lovely. You will find that Equador is a little cooler than the islands though, so be sure to take some long trousers and a sweater.

Once you have explored Equador, you will be taken to the airport for an internal flight to meet your boat or to be transferred to your Santa Cruz hotel. If you opt for the boat, then you are in for a real treat, generally there will be plenty of wildlife for you to see before you even get on the boat, sea lions, blue footed boobies, land and water iguanas, will all be milling around on the coast… If you have chosen the hotel option, your itinerary will be decided by you as you go. However, if you choose the boat, once aboard, this will be your home for the duration of your stay and you will have the pleasure of waking up to a new view every day.

Life on board: The travel usually happens overnight, while you sleep, although depending on your route and the islands you are visiting, you may need to sail through the day on occasion.

Most boats require a barefoot policy on board and ask that your shoes are cleaned in disinfectant after you return form each island, to prevent cross contamination/pollenation from one island to another.

You will generally be given an itinerary every evening, for the following day. It generally involves an early breakfast (to make sure you get the most out of the day) and a trip out to an island. Each island is incredibly different and you will see much varied wildlife on each. The trips are not compulsory, so if you want to lie in, no one is going to stop you, but I doubt you will the islands are just too addictive.

After a morning island excursion, you will be returned to the boat and given lunch, then have some relaxation time before you embark on the next trip. You will find that some of the trips are very water focused as the marine life is very rich here and you are given plenty of opportunities to dive and snorkel of the coast of the islands. Beware the water is freezing here, due to the unique currents, so make sure you bring or hire a wetsuit. Most boats carry a range of wetsuits for hire. I tried one trip without and ended up hyperventilating and missing all the fun… you will be swimming with seal ions, penguins (the only tropical penguins in the world) turtles and a plethora of other marine animals. There are some reef sharks here, and more adventurous divers can go out on hammerhead shark trips if they want to.

The food is fresh and tasty, at least it was on our boat and the atmosphere is always good after such an interesting day. Mind you, there were very few occasions when the guests were up past 10pm, as we were exhausted. The cabins were small but comfortable and I spent some nights falling asleep while watching the sea lions playing outside my porthole… truly amazing.

All of the photos shown here were taken on that trip, you really do get that close to the wildlife.

What to take:

• Wetsuits if you have them, if not hire one, they are not expensive.
• Sea sickness tablets (we took one every day just to make sure we didn’t have a single day ruined and it worked like a dream)
• Good walking sandals that you are happy to get wet.
• Good walking shoes for any dry trekking.
• A decent water bottle. You will be provided with water, sports bottles are portable, easy to carry and tend to stay cooler for longer.
• Take way more memory cards for your camera than you think you will ever need.
• Some warm clothing, the mornings/evenings can be deceptively cool
• If you have some zip off trousers, take them, they are great to start the day in, and then convert to shorts when it gets warmer, which it will.
• Sunscreen of course
• Binoculars – mot of the birds and wildlife will remain close, but it is a great way to spot Whales as you travel around. We saw killer whales and humpbacks while we were here, as well as dolphins.
• Snorkelling gear – although again, the boats will have some for you to hire.
• A lightweight hat or cap, you could be walking around in the sun for a large chunk of the day.
• Spare batteries and chargers, most of the boats, even the smaller ones, have a number of plug sockets you can use.

With the Galapagos Islands, it really is a catch 22, they are so sensitive to change that tourism is having an impact on the delicate ecosystem, however the protection of these islands is extremely reliant on the income produced by tourism. So the way to do it it practice responsible travel, be environmentally aware and make sure you leave NOTHING behind when you return to your boat. They say that you should do the trip once in a lifetime and never return, so as to lessen the effect the tourism has on the area as a whole. So make sure you choose your boat and your route around the islands well, you won’t regret it.