No doubt about it. The sheer abundance of wildlife in the Galapagos is enough to overwhelm even the most ardent nature fan. From sea lions to tortoises, to blue-footed boobies and rare iguanas, you’ll quickly lose yourself in the many wonders of these incredible islands. For most of us it’s a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, so you want to make sure you cover off all the highlights and then some. Here, travel bloggers and possibly the most adventurous couple we know, The Planet D, nominate their must-see experiences on a tour of the Galapagos…
“Straddling the Equator 1000 km off the coast of Ecuador is a magical archipelago of volcanic islands known as the Galapagos. It is here you will find one of the world’s most unique ecosystems, housing species endemic only this South American Environment.
The islands became famous after Charles Darwin returned from his 5-year voyage on the Beagle in 1836. It was his study of the geology and wildlife that sparked the ideas for his theory of evolution. The Galapagos Islands have a long and turbulent history where species of turtles and birds were hunted to extinction, whaling ships nearly bled the waters dry and invasive species wiped out the ecosystem. But thanks to conservation efforts, the Galapagos Islands are thriving and adventurous travellers sail their pristine waters and sunbathe on deserted beaches while in search of blue-footed boobies and the giant Galapagos tortoise.
There is a lot to do in the Galapagos, so we’ve narrowed down our favourite experiences we had there while taking part in an Active Galapagos tour with Intrepid Travel. Here are our top 6 things that you’ll love in the Galapagos Islands:
1. Swim with sea lions
Snorkelling in the Galapagos Islands is like nowhere else on earth. It’s one thing to see fish swim by as you float above a coral reef, it’s a completely other experience to interact with wild sea lions. They are curious creatures and within a few minutes of entering the water, you may find yourself surrounded by a group of playful pups spinning and jumping right beside you. The more you play with them, the more excited they’ll become and they will come in for a closer look. So much so that they may even try to snatch your camera out of your hands!
2. Snorkel with sharks
The Galapagos sharks are well fed, due to the rich ecosystem, so you don’t have to worry about becoming their next meal when you hop in the waters with them. Head over to ‘Sleeping Lion Rock’ and be swept along with the swift current that takes you through the crack of two massive formations. The real excitement begins once your drift is over though as you’ll come out on the other side, where the sharks hang out. Don’t be afraid though, they’re simply curious creatures that circle around and dive back down. If you’re lucky, you may spot several at once!
3. Hike the Sierra Negra
On the island of San Isabella, you will find a grand active volcano called the Sierra Negra. It is the world’s second largest caldera (the first can be found in Yellowstone National Park in the US) with the last eruption happening as recent as 2005. You’ll be mesmerised as you walk through lava fields and giant cones left over from lava flowing to the ocean below. Bring plenty of water though, because it’s a full day hike and it gets hot on the unforgiving rock.
4. Visit the Galapagos tortoise
A trip to the Galapagos wouldn’t be complete without seeing the gigantic Galapagos tortoise, after all the Galapagos Islands are named after this land dwelling reptile. Galapago is Spanish for ‘saddle’ and early settlers decided that the tortoises’ shell resembled a saddle. Thus the name Galapagos was born. The Galapagos tortoise can reach a weight of 500 pounds and live to the age of 150 years. There are sanctuaries on the island of Santa Cruz where you can learn all about conservation efforts and see the tortoise in its natural habitat.
5. Mountain bike
Most people think that you cannot stay on the islands of the Galapagos. We thought that before we took our Intrepid tour. As it turns out, there is an entire community of 25,000 permanent residents in the Galapagos and staying on the islands is the best part of the experience. Sipping coffee on the island of San Cristobal while watching sea lions laze on park benches is a beautiful experience. But you can’t relax all day long, this is the Galapagos after all, so take a mountain bike tour from the top of the island and cycle through wild forests and local villages. A nature walk follows the mountain bike tour to the beach where you’ll see frigate birds, boobies, sea lions and marine iguanas sunning themselves on the rocks and sand.
6. Take a history lesson
The Galapagos Islands have a rich history and it is worth exploring while visiting. You can check out Pirates Cave on San Isabella. Pirates used to hide out in the Galapagos and traces of their existence can be found throughout the islands. The Galapagos was once a penal colony for prisoners from the mainland. Its distance from anywhere makes escape nearly impossible. It was a brutal environment and you can visit the Wall of Tears to witness just how harsh the conditions were for the prisoners. The Galapagos was also a strategic base for the US Navy during World War II.
As you can see, there is so much to do in the Galapagos Islands especially when you stay on land. Yes, everyone comes for the snorkeling and diving and a sail through the islands is spectacular, but remember, there is a lot more to the Galapagos than meets the eye. Try surfing at the local hang out or sea kayaking with penguins. Eat at the local restaurants and hike through the many nature trails. With a little exploring, you’ll see beyond the usual tourist route and experience the trip of a lifetime.”
The Planet D took part in a great Galapagos Google+ Hangout recently. Click here if you missed the live chat about what to see, do and expect when you discover the Galapagos Islands.
Click here to plan your own Galapagos tour with Intrepid Travel.
Photos: © Dave Bouskill, The Planet D