One of the most exclusive destinations on the planet, the Galápagos is famed as an otherworldly archipelago in which the animal kingdom truly rules supreme. Although the natural wonders of the Islands were famously recognised by a certain young geologist by the name of Charles Darwin back in 1835, their inaccessibility delayed tourism taking off until relatively recently. Since then, the Galápagos have welcomed a steady stream of visitors mesmerised by their natural beauty and bewilderingly exotic wildlife. Approximately 620 miles off the coast of Ecuador, getting here still isn’t easy and tourism is closely regulated – but it’s well worth making the effort.
Thanks to the abundance of rare wildlife, the islands have a huge amount to offer visitors at any time of year. In January, travellers can watch the local green turtles laying their eggs in the twilight, while between May and September the penguin population takes to the waters around Barolomé beach to mix with the tourist swimmers. In August, the sea lions give birth to their adorable pups – later on in the year, you’ll be able to dive with these playful young creatures on specially arranged trips.
The warmest time of year is from December through to May, and although this is also the rainy season, the brief drizzle that passes each day hardly counts as a monsoon. February, March and April see the islands in bloom as the rains start to thin and the oceans grow calm, while from June to November the Humbolt Current arrives, bringing the temperature of the water and air down. Since this also brings in plenty of plankton, this is the best time of year to visit if you plan to go diving as the abundance of food attracts the local sea creatures in droves.
Geologists will also find much to amaze them, from the cavernous underground tunnels of the Lava Tubes near Bellavista to the expansive craters of Los Gemelos. Still, it has to be admitted that the wildlife that is the main attraction on the islands, and thanks to years of careful conservation efforts, many of the animals have almost no fear of humans. Marine iguanas are incredibly common across the islands and can be seen wandering streets and restaurants, oblivious to tourists. In the waters, sea lions are equally common, although the calm seas around Santa Fé make the best base for snorkelling and diving. For a sight of the famous Galápagos giant tortoise, visit the Santa Cruz highlands or the Alcedo Volcano, which have the largest populations. Or, if you’re happy to see them only slightly less naturally, go to the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz, where you can meet the tortoises face to face in a walk-in enclosure.
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