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75° 66°
76° 67°
75° 67°
76° 66°

Galapagos Overview

The biological diversity of the Galapagos inspired one of the cornerstones of modern thought when Charles Darwin traveled there aboard the HMS Beagle in 1835; today, any intrepid traveler cruising out to the archipelago will instantly understand the young scientist's awe. Lying 600 miles off Ecuador's west coast and consisting of 13 major islands and a fleet of smaller ones, the Galapagos have evolved in relative isolation into a surreal, volcanic landscape populated with a wide range of fearless, truly unique fauna. Bring a good camera and lots of film—the Galapagos offer some of the world's best wildlife photo ops: fire-red Sally Lightfoot crabs, marine iguanas, flourishing turtle nesting colonies, and the famous blue-footed boobies. Observe the courtship rituals of waved albatross and the territorial challenges of sea lions. Visit the Charles Darwin Research Station for a good look at giant tortoises—residents of a breeding program meant to prevent the extinction of the subspecies. No one season works for all wildlife, so figure out your favorites and match your interests to a tour itinerary.
If you're a budget traveler, keep in mind: a Galapagos expedition is expensive. Nevertheless, a cruise out to the Galapagos is a trip of a lifetime—one that's worth saving for. If you can swing it, spring for a smaller boat (10-16 people) and a longer tour (seven-eight days). Most vessels travel from island to island by night, taking passengers to shore via dinghy by day. Nearly 85% of the archipelago is preserved as a national park, with established sites and strict rules for visitors. Snorkelers will find life below the waterline just as breathtaking as what they'll find on land—from equatorial penguins and beaky parrotfish to giant rays and the occasional shark—but only experienced divers should try to brave the fierce currents and tricky underwater topography.

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