When it comes to bucket list destinations in South America, the Galapagos Islands are right up there with Machu Picchu, Patagonia, Rio de Janeiro and the Amazon Rainforest.
The islands famously inspired Charles Darwin, pushing him towards his theory of evolution by natural selection. “The natural history of this archipelago is very remarkable;” he wrote, “it seems to be a little world within itself.”
And so it still seems to visitors who come from across the globe to visit this archipelago some 580 miles off the coast of Ecuador. Extensive environmental protection initiatives have meant that Galapagos is no longer on the World Heritage Committee’s list of endangered sites, and the animals who live there — whom Darwin noted for their “extreme tameness” — are able to survive despite the influx of humans.
For wildlife lovers, the biodiversity of the islands is something truly special, especially considering that many species are endemic to the archipelago. Galapagos iguanas, tortoises and turtles trundle about the islands, while flightless cormorants and penguins hop along the rocks before launching themselves into the sea to hunt.
Many birdwatchers come to see the blue-footed booby, as well as great frigatebirds, Galapagos hawks, mockingbirds, and the waved albatross. Then there are the Galapagos sea lions, one of the archipelago’s most numerous, most playful and loudest inhabitants.
Despite the fragile ecosystem, humans have so far been able to live on the islands — and develop a thriving tourism industry — without destroying the delicate balance of the local environment. Cruise tours are still arguably the best way to see the islands, although a number of small hotels (and nearby restaurants) now cater to visitors on the inhabited islands.
Whether you’re a lifelong wildlife enthusiast or just someone who wants to see a very special and unique part of the world, a trip to the Galapagos is an unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime experience.
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