Tourism: Galapagos Islands, an unmissable natural paradise in the Pacific Ocean

If nature, idyllic beaches, unique animals and water sports are on your list to choose a destination, this place is the one

By Magdalena Zoroza August 29, 2020

Galapagos Islands, a paradise to know if you are a nature lover

There are few places in the world that can boast of having a unique flora and fauna in the world and being an example in the management of a fragile ecosystem like that of the Galapagos Islands. But what makes them really extraordinary is the ease of encountering their fauna that, since they are not afraid of human beings, do not flee from our presence.

Due to their geographical isolation, 972 kilometers from the continent, they were only annexed to Ecuador in 1832. Endemic species such as giant tortoises, which gave the islands their name, and marine iguanas developed here. The process of adaptation and change that species underwent over millions of years since their arrival from the continent is what inspired the English naturalist Charles Darwin in his theory of evolution by natural selection. Today both its islands and the surrounding marine reserve are an open-air laboratory and a tourist destination par excellence for lovers of nature and outdoor activities.

The Galapagos archipelago is made up of 7 major islands, 14 minor islands, 64 islets, and 136 rocks. Some of them still present volcanic activity, such as Fernandina, where the most recent eruption of La Cumbre Volcano was in January of this year

It is composed of 7 major islands, 14 minor islands, 64 islets, and 136 rocks (EFE)

Only five islands are populated. The two main ones are Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal. Then comes Isabela, which although it is the largest in size, has few residents, so it is visited by the Galapagueños themselves as a resting place.

There are two protected areas: the Galapagos National Park, which covers 97% of the archipelago’s land area, and the Galapagos Marine Reserve, one of the largest in the world. The archipelago has 70 land visit sites and 62 marine visit sites, over which very strict control and restrictions are imposed by local authorities in order to conserve and protect the species that inhabit there. In addition, the islands are recognized by Unesco for which they were designated a Natural World Heritage Site in 1976 and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1984.

Due to its strategic location in the Pacific Ocean where warm and cold sea currents converge and the existence of abundant plankton, species difficult to observe in other parts of the world such as the hammerhead shark or the gigantic whale shark occur here. This is why the islands are a mecca for diving.

Isabela Island, one of those recommended to visit (REUTERS / Nacho Doce)

There are daily flights from Quito and Guayaquil to the Baltra airport on the island of Santa Cruz or to the San Cristóbal airport on the island of the same name. Both are good options to base yourself and get to know the rest of the islands on daytime sea excursions.

As there is much to see but there are also beautiful beaches to rest, the ideal is to be able to stay a week staying on two different islands and thus have a more complete idea of ​​the destination. There are accommodations for all budgets. For those looking for a more exclusive way to get to know this destination, there are ships that sail for several nights touching different islands following a predetermined itinerary.

Maritime excursions for the day are booked in advance, especially if you want to choose which island to visit and on which boat. They usually leave very early – 7, 7:30 am – and return around 5 pm. They generally include navigation to the chosen island, an interpretive walk, lunch on the boat, and snorkeling. There is always a naturalist guide who accompanies the visitors, who, in addition to providing information on the tourist attractions, ensures that the rules for the visit are met by following government regulations.

Sea turtles are some of the main characters that can be seen in the Islands

In general, the boats include snorkeling equipment, but if you are cold it is a good idea to rent a wetsuit for your stay on the islands. This is a must see activity. Once you put on your mask, you will discover an incredible underwater world, coral reefs, fish of all colors, octopuses, stingrays and sea turtles among others.

The walks are usually on lava so it is important to have good footwear and a lot of protection from the sun, which hits very hard all year round.

Each island has a different attraction, so it is convenient that if you want to see some species or do a special activity, do your research before buying the tour.

If you want to move on your own between Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal and Isabela, there is a boat service that connects them to each other. In general, they leave at 7 am or 2 pm every day, but it is definitely worth getting up early to take advantage of the full day. These boats do not usually have many comforts and it is common to get seasick from the waves in the open sea.

Marine iguanas and land iguanas can be seen walking on the island lands

Roberto Peralvo, Galapagos naturalist guide, offered several tips for planning a visit to the island:

About what is the best time of year to go, the guide answers that “being located on the equator, these beautiful islands enjoy a pleasant climate throughout the year.” According to his experience, the best combination in terms of climate and wildlife activity occurs in the months of March and April. “During these months Galapagos is around 26-29 degrees Celsius, this is due to the change in marine currents that occurs during these months. At the beginning of the year, temperatures can exceed 29 degrees Celsius and in the last months of the year they can be between 18-20 C ”.

As a native of Santa Cruz Island, he recommends the following visits:
On the way between the Baltra airport and Puerto Ayora is the “El Chato” ranch, the best place to see the Galapagos Giant Tortoises. It is a private reserve where turtles roam freely and is one of the great attractions of this island. Roberto says that there he likes to have “a delicious cup of coffee grown in the area accompanied by a freshly baked empanada de viento (pie filled with cheese).”

If you were wanting to know more about these giant tortoises and to see other species, you cannot miss a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station.

And finally, if you like to walk for a long time with the idea of ​​reaching a beach of white sand and turquoise water where, in addition to getting into the water, you can see marine iguanas, crabs and a variety of birds such as pelicans and blue-footed boobies (birds with blue feet), don’t miss Tortuga Bay.

Blue-footed boobies are also on the islands

Roberto suggests including a visit to San Cristóbal Island “where you can follow in the footsteps of naturalist Charles Darwin, since this island was his entry point to the archipelago. One of the places you must visit is the “Sleeping Lion”, a volcanic formation that will surely catch your attention and offer you an unforgettable photograph of an eroded volcano, and if you are looking to snorkel with sharks, this is a place that will not disappoint you. and it is located only 40 minutes by boat from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristóbal. Finally, end the afternoon with a stop at “Fresco Café” located near the Oro beach, to enjoy a refreshing passion fruit smoothie accompanied by the sound of the Galapagos sea lions found on this beach ”.

Now, if what you are looking for on your vacation is a bit of peace and quiet, the guide suggests Isabela Island. “The area known as Los Túneles (Cabo Rosa), which is an hour and a half by boat from the port, is one of my favorite places. In addition to blue-footed boobies and impressive volcanic formations, you can also enjoy snorkeling with sea turtles and with a little luck you can find seahorses ”.

Isabela offers for beach lovers, kilometers of white sand where it is also common to meet penguins and marine iguanas. For those who are looking for more physical activity, Roberto says that you can rent bicycles and travel the coast in search of lagoons surrounded by mangroves, home to flamingos. And to end the day he suggests “a stop at“ BJ Cafetería ”to enjoy a cocktail,“ Caipicoco ”(vodka, condensed milk, juice and coconut and ice cream) next to the beach and a beautiful sunset”.

Finally, when asked about the current situation of tourism as a result of the covid-19 in the islands, he reported that the Galapagos National Park reopened its doors to tourism in July, with new biosafety regulations approved by the Ministry of Health and the WHO, such as the use of the mandatory mask. In addition, entry to the islands is authorized with the presentation of a PCR test with a negative result taken up to 96 hours before the trip.

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Informing and sharing news on marine life, flora, fauna and conservation in the Galápagos Islands since 2017
© SOS Galápagos, 2021

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