An archipelago of the ‘Galapagos Islands’ is located in the Pacific Ocean some 1000 km west of the ‘South American continent’ & is considered as the part of Ecuador. The archipelago came into limelight when the endemic species dwelling in the vicinity was extensively studied by Charles Darwin during his world-famous ‘voyage of the Beagle’. The observations & study of the living creatures helped ‘Darwin’ immensely in working out his theory of ‘Evolution by Natural Selection’.
The archipelago of 19 volcanic islands & the surrounding waters form an Ecuadorian province, a biological marine reserve & a national park. The ‘Galapagos Islands’ are located at the confluence of three ocean currents which make it an exotic showcase of an exceptional variety of marine life. The archipelago shelters bustling societies of unusual animal species, few of which are surprisingly amiable. The marine & land iguana, the giant turtle, sea lions & penguins are the elite class citizens of the ‘Galapagos’ & innumerable hordes of tourists visit these islands to witness the ‘living museum of the evolution of life’!
The ‘Galapagos Islands’ are spread over 45,000 sq. km of ocean & consist of 7,880 sq. km of land. Isabela is the largest island in the archipelago, which occupies nearly three-quarters of the total land area. ‘Volcan Wolf’ on ‘Isabela’ is the highest pinnacle which rises up to 1,770 m (5,600 feet) above the sea level.
The archipelago houses 18 main islands, 3 smaller islands & more than 100 rocks & islets. The Fernandina Island in the Galapagos group experienced a volcanic eruption in April 2009. Baltra, Bartolome, Darwin, Espanola, Fernandina, Isabela, Genovesa etc. are few of the most famous islands which get the maximum attraction of the tourists.
FLORA & FAUNA:
The archipelago houses a unique ecological system & includes myriad endemic plant & animal species. The endemic plants include some 500 vascular plant species out of which, about 180 are endemic, although most of the land is barren.
‘Galapagos Islands’, on the other hand, are super-rich in terms of its fauna. The archipelago is the home of extraordinary variations of invertebrates, birds, reptiles & marine species. Most of the reptiles are endemic, which includegiant Galapagos tortoise, terrestrial & marine iguanas & lizards of Geckos & Genus species. Around 90 bird species can be found on the archipelago, out of which, 57 are residents & around 33 are regular migrants. Endemic bird species include 13 types of Darwin’s finches, flightless cormorant, Galapagos penguins, lava heron, mockingbirds, nocturnal snow-tailed bird & thick-billed Flycatcher. The native mammals include Galapagos fur seal, sea lions, rice rats, bat & hoary bats.
Surrounding ‘Marine Reserve Park’ that spread over 133,000 sq.km, is located on the confluence of the three ocean currents. It is the second largest marine park in the world after the ‘Great Barrier Reef’ in Australia. The marine park is one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world & houses marine life in abundance. The marine park offers an amazing opportunity to see awe-inspiring schools of shark species, including hammerheads, whale sharks, reef sharks, Galapagos sharks & silky sharks. Various species of rays, giant schools of jack & tuna, green turtles, seals & many more are also seen swimming in the Galapagos waters, which is just perfect for them!
THINGS TO DO:
Cruises: It is the best possible option to explore the majesty of the remote islands in the archipelago. It is important to bear in mind that spending a holiday at the Galapagos costs a considerable amount no matter what type of boat you choose. ‘Galapagos large boats’ & ‘Galapagos small boats’ have their own pros & cons, which must be kept in mind before booking the boats. Advance booking is a must if you are planning your trip during the peak season.
Snorkeling & Scuba Diving:
Diving or snorkeling in the Galapagos is a simply mesmerizing experience. The abundance of marine life that thrive in the warm waters of Galapagos make it one of the premium diving destinations. However, the Galapagos is not an ideal place for novice divers as the strong currents, depth & sometimes poor visibility can impose a tough challenge. Having said that, one simply can never deny the majesty of the extravagant exhibition of the marine creatures that can be seen here. Darwin & Wolf Islands constitute one of the best diving destinations in the world in the category of the best marine environment.
The Galapagos may not be suitable for the beginners, but veteran divers get thrilled by the exotic exhibition of the marine life comprising of massive schools of hammerhead sharks, silky sharks, Galapagos sharks, giant manta rays, eagle rays, sting rays, gigantic schools of jack & tuna, sea turtles & sea lions.
Fishing: Although sport fishing is illegal in Galapagos, the national park authority issues Artisanal Vivencial Fishing licenses to some of the operators to organize the special tours.
Surfing: The Galapagos waters are just tailor-made for the surfing. Few islands like San Christobal, Isabela & Santa Cruz have beaches where surfing can be enjoyed the most. Surfing boards can be rented from the local port markets.
Kayaking: Kayaking offers a good opportunity to navigate the nearby beaches. Kayaks are available on rent at Tortuaga Bay in Santa Cruz & at the haven of San Cristobal.
Hiking: Hiking is the best way to explore the inland of the Galapagos islands & to understand the formation of the islands & drastic variations in the terrain as well as in the foliage. Hiking is often included in the cruise itinerary.
Horse Riding: The hilltops of the islands can be best visited by taking a horse ride. Riding tours can cost up to $50.
This amazing archipelago has nearly 30,000 residents & it is estimated that, 170,000 tourists visit this place to get the otherworldly yet unforgettable experience. This incredible group of islands was inscribed by UNESCO on the list of ‘World Heritage sites’ in the year 1978 & since then, it has remained the center of attraction for the natural historians, wildlife enthusiasts & ardent divers!