As your boat cuts through the choppy Pacific waters near the equator, you pass through occasional bouts of rain and drizzle before entering a low fog bank clinging to the water. It is summer in the northern hemisphere, and you expected it to be hot in these equatorial latitudes, but the air and the salt spray is surprisingly cool on your exposed skin. Then, as you continue onward, the fog begins to lift, and before you is the shore of a rocky island, sloping upwards to higher peaks in the interior. You smile with wonder at the sight unveiled to your eyes. At last you have reached your destination! The unique ecological wonders of the Galapagos Archipelago are spread out before you, ready to be explored!
The Galapagos Islands are of volcanic origin and sprawl out comfortably on either side of the equator. Located about six hundred miles due west of the South American mainland, they are cooled by the chilly waters of the Humboldt Current coming up from Antarctica and range in elevation from sea level to a height of more than 5,600 feet. The islands are part of the Republic of Ecuador, and have been visited by European explorers since the mid-16th century. At one point in their history, the Galapagos were used as a base for pirates who would raid the rich Spanish treasure galleons bringing gold and silver from the mines of Peru.
Today, most of the islands and their surrounding waters form a nature reserve and national park as well as a UNESCO world heritage site. One of the most famous visitors to the Galapagos was Charles Darwin on board the HMS Beagle during the 1830’s. The information Darwin collected here and his examination and drawing of the various plant and animal species on the islands led to the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859 and Darwin’s groundbreaking theory of evolution. During their millions of years of isolation each island has developed its own unique flora and fauna; many species are found nowhere else in the world.
A visit to these unique islands may be the ultimate experience in eco-tourism. There are still many active volcanoes on the Galapagos, and they have erupted a total of 24 times between 1961 and 2011. In total, the chain consists of 18 main islands, 3 smaller islands, and over 100 protruding rocks and islets. The youngest islands in the chain, Isabela and Fernandina, are still growing in size as periodic lava flows from local eruptions add to their size. Each island in the Galapagos has its own character; some are dry and arid, others are mountainous and very wet. To truly appreciate the ecological diversity of the Archipelago, you will have to visit numerous islands.
The species that can be found here include the Galapagos land and marine iguanas, the Galapagos green turtle, sea cucumbers (a delicacy in Asian food), the flightless cormorant, Blue-footed booby, Great frigatebird, the Galapagos penguin (the only living tropical penguin species) and the Waved albatross. There are also four
species of mockingbirds that are endemic to the islands and thirteen native species of tanagers, known colloquially as “Darwin’s finches”. There is also a subspecies of sea lion found only on the islands and two unique species of cacti. Of course the most famous and iconic animal on the island is the Galapagos Sea Tortoise, the largest living Tortoise and the creature that gave the islands their name. These giant reptiles can live to be up to 150 years old and are found nowhere else in the world outside of zoos.
There are limited options for air travel to the Galapagos, and truly the best way to see the islands is by boat. Do not expect to be ferried out to the islands on a giant cruise ship; these will be smaller yachts that may hold up to a maximum of 100 passengers. The sleep-aboard vessels will allow you to explore more remote islands and spend a greater amount of time in the area. Remember, each island has its own unique ecology and animals! However, for those prone to sea sickness or wanting a quicker trip, there is the option of flying to the only airport on the Isle of Baltra and taking an excursion vessel from there to explore some of the nearby islands. Are you entranced by the prospect yet? Give us a call at Condor Tours and Travel at 800-783-8847 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org today! We can start making your dreams a reality and help you plan your exotic vacation to experience the wonders of the Galapagos!