One of the most appealing and intriguing destinations on the planet is the Galapagos Islands. As part of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands are located South of Central America and West of South America. Surrounded by water and packed with wildlife, it is hard to sum up the incredible beauty and showstopping views that the islands have to offer. If you’re dreaming of a getaway to the Galapagos, take a closer look and explore the magic.
What Makes the Galapagos Islands a Unique Travel Destination?
The 19 Galapagos Islands form an archipelago right in the heart of the Pacific Ocean. The islands are remote and were virtually untouched for millions of years. As a result, visiting the Galapagos Islands is unlike anywhere else on the planet. To preserve this incredible environment, the islands are protected. The Galapagos Islands became Ecuador’s first national park almost 60 years ago, and for the past 40 years the entire archipelago has been a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Plenty of important people throughout history have been attracted to the beauty and remoteness of the Galapagos. Most notably, Charles Darwin visited the archipelago for 19 days in 1835 to study the flora and fauna of the islands. His visit was responsible for the book Origin of the Species as well as the concept of evolution.
Clearly, the Galapagos Islands are a place of fascinating history and equally amazing views. One more thing, however, makes the islands special: Conservation. These islands don’t cater to humans. Instead, it caters to the animals who have long called the islands home. Humans have to follow rules, join tours and leave no trace behind in exchange for the unparalleled privilege of seeing the Galapagos Islands in person. Over 97 percent of the landmass is protected as part of the Galapagos National Park, and even offshore the Galapagos Marine Preserve protects the marine life and underwater ecosystems.
Getting to the Galapagos Islands
Since the Galapagos Islands are located hundreds of miles from the nearest landmass, you can only get there by airplane or by boat. All flights to the Galapagos Islands depart from one of two Ecuadorian airports that offer direct access to the archipelago. You can choose to fly from Quito or from Guayaquil in Ecuador. There are two airports where you can choose to arrive in the Galapagos: San Cristóbal or Isla Baltra. A typical flight from Ecuador to the Galapagos Islands will take anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours in total.
Keep in mind that when you arrive at either airport, you can expect to spend about an hour going through customs. You’ll also want to come prepared to pay the $100 entry fee that applies to every visitor. The ideal carry-on luggage for your flight is the Swissgear 6996 Scansmart Laptop Backpack. The Scansmart backpack is the right size to bring on the plane, and it can lay flat through x-ray machines so you don’t have to pull your laptop in and out of the bag each time you go through security. The backpack can also work for your camera or a tablet computer. There is a padded compartment just for your laptop as well as a dedicated tablet-safe pocket. If you can’t travel without your tech, this backpack is perfect. If you need room to pack more things because a laptop backpack isn’t enough, check out SWISSGEAR Luggage Sets.
The other way to arrive at the Galapagos Islands is by boat. Those with private yachts can apply for boat arrival access to the archipelago, but permits are limited and have to be applied for at least two months in advance. Far more common is a cruise that departs from Ecuador and spends a week or more touring around the Galapagos Islands. Beware of cargo ships claiming to offer transport from Ecuador to the Galapagos Islands. While this does happen from time to time, it is illegal and definitely not recommended.
The Must-See Destinations in the Galapagos Islands
When you discuss the top destinations in the Galapagos Islands, it is worth considering why these destinations are the best. Most of the time, these are hotspots because of the wildlife that can see while you’re there. Just a taste of the animals you can expect to see in the Galapagos include turtles, penguins, iguanas and sea lions.
Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island is a very popular destination for travelers, and with good reason. Just a short taxi or bus ride from the Baltra Airport, Puerto Aroya is very convenient as a first or last stop during your time on the islands. It’s also home to the famous fish market, where both humans and animals are drawn to the fish being sold. You’ll see a sea lion waiting for fish scraps and swarms of herons and pelicans eager for a closer look at the seafood on display. Puerto Aroya is also a great place to stock up on groceries before you head out to some of the more remote destinations on the archipelago. Remember that conservation is king on the islands, so don’t expect plastic grocery bags to be available at local stores. Arrive with a Swissgear 1651 City Pack Backpack so that you can store plenty of snacks or necessities with maximum comfort. Popular snack items to buy and travel with include passion fruit and dried fish, both of which can easily fit in your backpack with room to spare for travel extras like sunscreen, a hat or a rain jacket. There is even a multi-compartment organizer to keep your purchases safe. The easy access side water bottle pocket is ideal in such a warm climate, especially since you’ll want to travel with an eco-friendly, reusable water bottle, making it the ultimate travel backpack.
SWISSGEAR 1651 CITY PACK BACKPACK
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If you want to do some water-based activities, then head to Tortuga Bay on Santa Cruz. This is the most iconic spot for kayaking in the Galapagos, and it is also the place where you’re most likely to see sea turtles in their natural habitat. Las Grietas on Santa Cruz is also highly recommended for snorkeling, where you can swim at no cost in the clear blue water and admire the underwater marine life as you go.
If you’ve always wanted to swim with sea lions, there is one notable spot you won’t want to miss: The island of Santa Fe. The island is home to a lagoon where you can get in the water and swim close to sea lions who are lounging on the warm rocks right on the shoreline.
Anyone who is coming to the Galapagos Islands especially for the wildlife might also want to check out the island of Isabela. It is particularly well known for the many birds that you can spot from the island. Isabela Island is home to flamingos, penguins, pelicans and many migratory birds. It is also where you’ll find the impressive Tortoise Center of Isabela, where you can see large tortoises as well as young hatchlings. From Isabela Island, you can also take a dingy to Elizabeth Bay to snorkel with rays amongst the mangroves or watch cute penguins play on the shore.
To Cruise or Not to Cruise
Visitors planning a trip to the Galapagos Islands face one major choice: To cruise or not to cruise? One of the most popular ways to see as many of the islands as possible, and to get out into nature as much as possible, is through a cruise. Galapagos Islands cruises tend to last about a week, and they are much smaller than the cruise ships you might be picturing. You might be on a ship with two dozen other travelers, all of whom want to snap nature photos, see the wildlife and enjoy one bed for the entire journey. If you’re planning a cruise, then it makes sense to invest in the Swissgear expandable hardside luggage set. Since you’ll have one room for the duration of your trip, you will also have the freedom to bring along more clothes, supplies and adventure gear. Whether you bring one suitcase or all three, you’ll appreciate how easy they are to maneuver and how simple it is to stay organized. Just some of the top-rated features include the tie-down straps, the internal pockets to help you stay organized and the mesh zippered side. The smallest of the three cases is also the perfect size to use as your carry-on, and it even boasts a convenient drink holder so you can stay hydrated (or caffeinated!) while traveling.
If you opt not to choose a cruise in the Galapagos, you’re still going to have an amazing time. Plus, you’ll be able to set your own itinerary, you can stay in varied accommodation and you’ll also likely save a lot of money. However, it is still worth finding day trips by boat. Some of the smaller islands are only accessible by boat, and they don’t offer accommodation. So even a short cruise for a half or full day will take you to secluded spots that are well worth the trip.
When to Visit
There is truly no bad time to visit the Galapagos Islands. While there are distinct seasons, the islands boast a hospitable climate throughout the year. The hot season tends to be from December to June, and daytime temperatures can easily surpass 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The other half of the year, or the cool season, sees temperatures in the 70s instead.
The key to choosing your dates is that advance planning is key. Flights can sell out quickly, and accommodation is often booked up months in advance. The same is true for day trips and longer cruises. In fact, many travelers plan their trips a year or more in advance. If you’re hoping to visit outside of peak season, the months of February, March, April, October and November tend to be the least busy. However, tourists and researchers are found in the Galapagos Islands no matter what the season.
Visiting the Galapagos Islands is a once in a lifetime experience. If the islands are on your bucket list, this guide can help you plan out a trip that you’ll never forget.