By Garry Gallant
South America is a continent overflowing with exotic and hidden adventures. The conquistadores of old were captivated with the rich diversity (and gold) that they found there. The cultures and civilizations that have sprouted from this vast land are many. And the evidence left by them can be found throughout the entire continent.
South America also has been the center of more recent notoriety, and so it continues to play an exciting and pivotal role in our modern global community. We will look at one important destination today, amongst the many that you can explore.
The Galapagos Islands sit of the west coast of Ecuador and are also a part of that country. They are an archipelago of 19 volcanic islands spread on either side of the Equator in the Pacific Ocean, 926 km west of continental Ecuador.
The islands were first discovered by Spaniard, Fray Tomás de Berlanga in 1535. The Galapagos is best known for a visit by the survey ship HMS Beagle on 15 September 1835 to survey the islands. On board was the young naturalist Charles Darwin. Darwin, primarily a geologist, made observations on the geology and biology on the islands before they left on 20 October to continue on their round-the-world expedition. Darwin was impressed by the quantity of volcanic craters they saw, later referring to the archipelago as “that land of craters.” He also was particularly captivated by the uniqueness of the tortoises, birds and other wildlife he found on each island. These observations were crucial in Darwin’s development of his theory of natural selection explaining evolution, which was presented in his book, The Origin of Species.
Flights into the Galapagos are from the Ecuador mainland and are limited to two islands; San Cristobal and Baltra. Baltra has been opened up to limited overnight camping, requiring permits. Other inhabited islands also allow camping on the beaches. All of these camping permits limit the number of people and nights. Land based hotels have opened on the inhabited islands of San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Floreana and Isabela. Restaurants and easy access make this an attractive travel option.
Cruise tours are still the best way to see all the complex environment and wildlife of the islands. These vessels were the main source of overnight accommodations in the Galapagos. There are many yachts and ships equipped for overnight guests, but are limited by the government to 16 up to 100 passengers.
There are only 116 visitor sites in the Galapagos: 54 land sites and 62 scuba-diving or snorkeling sites. Small groups are allowed to visit in 2–4 hour shifts only, to limit impact on the area. All groups are accompanied by licensed guides. UNESCO recognised the islands in 1978 as a World Heritage Site, and in 1985, as a biosphere reserve. In July 2010, the World Heritage Committee removed the Galapagos Islands from its list of precious sites endangered by environmental threats or overuse. So the strict regulation and protection is having a very positive impact on the area.
Here are a couple of the cruise operators visiting the Galapagos. Celebrity Cruises has a purpose built cruise ship called, “Celebrity Xpedition”. Also, Silversea Cruises has its specially built luxury ship, the “Silver Galapagos”. Both of these ships sail out of the island of Baltra year-round. This is definitely the best way to experience this unique environmental sanctuary. It is also the most enjoyable and worry-free, since all the details are looked after for you. So, it remains for you to just “walk in the footsteps” of Darwin.
Here’s a hint for planning your trip! Plan on an extended stay in Ecuador, before or after your Galapagos Adventure. This too is a tremendously interesting country and culture to visit and enjoy! Fly in to the capital of Quito and begin your expedition there.
Plan your vacation early! I can help you sort through all the choices to create the perfect bucket list adventure for you and the whole family! Now you are ready! All you now have to do is enjoy the experience and get ready for life-long memories!
More about cruise & travel to come in future articles. Til then, keep cruisin’! – Gary Gallant