If you are looking for a real adventure rather than just a vacation, how about a trip to the remote Galapagos Islands? Best known as being the place that inspired Darwin’s controversial Theory of Evolution, these 16 volcanic islands straddle the Equator.
They are about 600 miles west of the coast of Ecuador and their very remoteness caused them to have a somewhat limited range of flora and fauna. As each species arrived, carried by the wind or the ocean currents that converge on the islands, they had to adapt to the environment in which they found themselves. This was the cause of some extraordinary endemic wildlife species that are only found on these islands.
A trip to the Galapagos Islands offers thrilling and unique opportunities to get up close to the wildlife and take photographs, as the animals have never developed a fear of humans. Visitors will see amazing animals including extraordinary giant Galapagos tortoises that weigh up to 300 pounds; marine and land iguanas, bright red crabs, sea lions and many species of birds. Rather than fleeing away from two-legged visitors, the animals often gawp back, seeing humans as something to be stared at out of curiosity!
Hiking trails lead to some remarkable viewpoints on these islands while boat trips visit landmark rocks, secluded sandy beaches or take visitors to the best spots for snorkeling and diving. Sheltered coves are perfect for kayaking or taking dinghy rides to see the colonies of penguins, the only place they are found in the northern hemisphere. The blue-footed boobies, with their incongruous bright blue legs and feet, look like they have been dipped in paint!
One of the very best spots for diving in the Galapagos Islands is Wolf Island. Wall dives, caves and pinnacles are surrounded by unbelievable shoals of scalloped hammerhead sharks, cow-nosed rays and many other large marine animals. Corals, sea urchins, sea stars, mollusks, green turtles, spotted moray eels, huge manta rays, several species of whales and 300 species of fish make this an amazing experience.
Each of the Galapagos Islands is different in shape, size and habitat. The largest is Isla Isabela, which is strangely shaped like a seahorse. It was formed by six adjoining shield volcanoes which are still considered active. Climb the steep slopes of the Wolf Volcano, the highest point on the Galapagos at 1,707m (5,547 feet). It has a massive caldera (volcanic crater) that is 4 miles (7km) across. Punta Vicente Roca in northern Isabela is another extraordinary sight. The crescent-shaped rock is all that remains of the rim of the Ecuador volcano after half the volcano slid into the sea, revealing a spectacular inner view of the caldera.
The smaller San Cristobal Island is the best place for visitors to stay and use as a base. It has the main airport and the only permanent source of fresh water on the islands at El Junco Lake. Visit La Galapaguera, a giant tortoise reserve or spend time at the Galapagos National Park Interpretive Center which has some fantastic natural history exhibits.