The Enchanted Islands: A Visit to the Galapagos Island

The Galapagos Islands, the birthplace of evolution, have subsequently been named the “enchanted islands” because, put simply, they truly are enchanting. Home to hundreds of endemic species, plants and animals that can be found nowhere else, the Galapagos Islands offer a truly unique and unforgettable vacation experience. Since the islands are located on the equator, the islands are hot year round, so visits anytime of the year are blessed with warm weather. However, cold oceanic currents during the months of June-December, cool the water, so if you plan to do a lot of swimming, you may want to visit between December and May.


The Galapagos Islands are located 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, and though their isolated location makes them difficult to travel to, the experience is far worth the effort. To travel to these “enchanted islands” one must first take a plane to one of Ecuador’s two largest cities: Quito or Guayaquil. All international flights land in these cities during the evening, and all flights depart to the Galapagos in the morning, so it will be necessary to stay in mainland Ecuador for at least one night. Both Quito and Guayaquil are large cities and subsequently, can be dangerous, so it is ideal to reserve a room in a hotel in advance, and to refrain from exploring either city alone. In the morning you can depart mainland Ecuador and head to the Galapagos on Aerogal airlines. There are airports on three islands: Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, or Isabela, so you can chose which island you would like to visit first.


If you are looking for classy tourist establishments: nice sushi restaurants, fine jewelry stores and expensive hotels, Santa Cruz is the island for you. With the largest local inhabitant population (measuring about 12,000 people), the only city, Puerto Ayora, has a well-established tourist sector. Recommended restaurants include the Red Mangrove, a sushi restaurant with delicious strawberry daiquiris, and the Rock, home to mouth-watering quesadillas and killer desserts. On this island, make sure you check out the Charles Darwin Research Station, visit Lonesome George and the Galapagos tortoises, and relax or surf on Tortuga (Turtle) Beach.


The island San Cristobal may be the island for you, if you desire a location that offers some tourist establishments and extensive interaction with Galapagos wildlife. San Cristobal is particularly known for its population of friendly and curious sea lions. Sea lions are found playing on the shore and relaxing on the sand of every beach and they are also found sleeping on benches and steps outside of restaurants and stores on the town’s boardwalk. The small town, Puetro Baquerizo Moreno, is the capital of the Galapagos and is home to just over 6,000 residents, a small University, and a handful of quality hotels and restaurants including, Casa Blanca, a great place for cocktails, Miconia, with breezy outdoor seating, and La Playa, set right on a beach. San Cristobal is also home to many beautiful beaches, such as El Loberia, where you are guaranteed to see sea turtles while snorkeling, Playa Man or Punta Corola, great places to surf or swim, or the cove, Tijeretas, the location of Darwin’s first Galapagos landing. For those interested in scuba diving, excursions to Kicker Rock, called Leon Dormido (Sleeping Lion) by the locals, are readily available by a multitude of diving instructors. Known as one of the best diving locations in the world, Kicker Rock is home to many alluring marine creatures, such as reef sharks, sting and manta rays, sea turtles, and if you are lucky, hammerhead sharks.


Isabela Island is small and quaintly undeveloped, with the population of the city, Puerto Villamil, measuring just over 1,000 individuals. The city is home to sand streets, a flamingo pond, populations of penguins and precious mangrove forests. The city is a short five-minute walk from a beautiful sprawling beach that offers miles of gleaming white sand and clear, ocean water. Isabela is quiet, picturesque and a perfect place to be inspired by nature. If you are feeling slightly more adventurous you can hike Sierra Negra, a basaltic volcano that offers truly awe-inspiring landscapes and is home to the second largest crater in the world.


Finally, if neither of these islands sounds perfect, you can chose to tour uninhabited islands on a boat cruise. There are many different agencies you can book with, and a myriad of tours you can chose from, so you can decide if you want to visit just a few islands or try to visit more islands. Regardless of you choice, your experience will be remarkable. You will have the opportunity to snorkel with sharks, see frigate birds mate, swim with sea lions, relax on red or black sand beaches, and come within feet of red footed and blue footed boobies. The Galapagos wildlife is unique and fascinating for everyone: biologists and tourists alike. Undoubtedly no matter where you chose to go or what aspect of the Galapagos you chose to experience, you will have a truly remarkable vacation.


Michelle Donahue

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