Before I went to the Galapagos Islands, I found myself asking the question, why spend so much money on a trip going to the remote island chain for a week when, for the same price, I could go to Costa Rica and spend a couple of months, or even mount a safari to Africa? Is it really worth all the expense and trouble, especially when there are no man-made attractions on the Galapagos, and so many nature tours worldwide are so much more affordable? The short answer is yes, to my way of thinking, and here’s why:
Endemic species: Some of the animals you will see here are to be found nowhere else on earth. For example, the Giant Tortoise is only found on a handful of islands in the Galapagos chain, while the blue-footed booby is extremely rare outside of the preserve. The Galapagos Sea Lion and Penguin are found only here, as well as several species of Marine Iguana, lava lizard, and snake. Ditto for the flightless cormorant, the petrel and Darwin’s famous finches.
The animals are approachable and friendly: Because they aren’t hunted, the wildlife here has zero fear of humans. Our group had to literally step over a land iguana near Baltra that never moved an inch to accommodate us. The sea lions off Espanola Island were so curious about us that we found ourselves swimming away from them just to avoid unwanted contact. The sea turtles will allow you to hover just a few feet over them while they graze underwater near the shore. Even birds protecting a nest of eggs will allow close inspection without becoming skittish. I have never been anywhere else where the creatures allow such close contact with the deadliest animals of all.
The animals are not dangerous: Nor should you worry about these creatures, because none of them are dangerous to man. Enjoy them without fear. A quick Google search of “Galapagos tourist deaths” will return only a handful of such occasions in the last ten years, all of them dive-related or due to previous medical conditions.
The animals are everywhere and unavoidable: One of my fellow cruisers remarked that while they had expected to see all of the fauna described in the glossy brochures, they’d expected to get only a glimpse or two, rather than find entire colonies of the creatures literally strewn all over the rocks, beaches, oceans, and even the small towns that make up their habitat. From the moment you step off the plane until the last second of your time here, you will be in close contact with one species or another. Walk to the dock in town, and you’ll find a sea lion lounging on a park bench. Jump into the water, and discover, within a few minutes, Sea Turtles, White-Tipped Sharks, Manta Rays, thousands of tropical fish, Sea Lions, Moray Eels, “Chocolate Chip” Starfish, Galapagos Penguins…oftentimes many such on the same dive. While on board, you’ll have frequent sightings of porpoises, sharks, frigate birds, albatross…Walk down a trail, and practically trip over iguanas, lava lizards, bird nests, etc. Go to the Galapagos, and it’s not that you might see these animals once or twice during your trip if everything goes right. You’re practically guaranteed you’ll see them, up close and personal, in numbers that you can scarcely imagine!
Lack of other humans: Frequently, we’d be completely alone…deserted on an entire island with the animals. At no time did we see more than twenty other humans at once, save in the cities. The sense of isolation is palpable, and a welcome respite from what we call civilization. It makes you feel like a bit of an explorer. And yes, on a more shallow note, it adds to the sense of exclusivity.
The landscapes are otherworldly: The topography here is unique in my experience. In some places, red sand beaches give way to lava rock cliffs rising through the thin white branches of dormant bushes just beginning to sprout flowers. In the distance, the cone of a volcano pokes through a green canopy of trees. And all around, the deep blue sea. It is a scene of epic grandeur and poetry, made all the more surreal due to the lack of human habitation. Hawaii is similar in many respects on some of its islands, but of course the islands are much larger there, and the signs of “progress” and people are never far away.
Constant adventure: We averaged 2 snorkels a day and at least one field trip hike during my trip, so we were constantly stimulated with the level of physical activity, the scenery, and the education afforded by daily briefings and nature talks. Yet the hikes were short enough for even the moderately mobility challenged to manage, and the snorkel trips were limited to about 45 minutes to an hour. We did use wet suits for comfort, though in some locations they weren’t necessary. The point is, the outings were at a low to moderate degree of difficulty, yet everyone felt engaged and comfortable enough in the activity to enjoy it.
So my advice is, if you get the chance to go to the Galapagos, do it. There really is nothing else like it.