A Trip to the Galapagos is a Vacation Never Forgotten

In 1831, a 26-year-old novice naturalist named Charles Darwin set off on the HMS Beagle, an expedition boat tasked with exploring the South American coasts. During the trip, he spent 19 days collecting data from a remote archipelago 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador called the Galapagos Islands. Nearly 20 years later, Darwin published his findings in "On the Origin of Species," and it changed the course of human enlightenment. Today, the Galapagos Islands are a UNESCO World Heritage Site that welcomes about 275,000 tourists annually. Getting there isn't cheap — but the price of admission is worth the cost to see one of the few places on Earth where Mother Nature still takes center stage.

There's no bad time to vacation in the Galapagos, but the best time depends on your interests. June through December are cooler and drier. You'll need wetsuits during this season, but it's also when the waters are alive with plankton, which attracts the most diverse marine life. On the flip side, January through May are warmer and wetter, and the vibrant post-rain skies make for show-stopping photographs.

Must-See Sights and Activities

Nature is the main attraction in the Galapagos, and the island chain is a cornucopia of wildlife habitats, protected reservations, and eco- attractions. Some of the best include: 

  • Charles Darwin Research Center: Based in Puerto Ayora, the Charles Darwin Research Center is an active conservation organization that carries on the work of its namesake. The group runs a breeding center, manages conservation projects, and maintains several exhibits celebrating the life and work of Charles Darwin.
  • Sierra Negra: An active volcano on Isabela Island, Sierra Negra is a popular Galapagos hike. But be warned: it's not for the faint of heart — nor beginners! Sierra Negra is the second-largest planetary crater and one of the most seismically-monitored mountains in the world. But don't worry, it hasn't erupted since 2005, and officials close it down at the mere hint of activity. If you go, wear sturdy hiking boots and neutral colors to avoid wasp attacks.
  • Tortuga Bay: About a 20-minute water-taxi ride away from Puerto Ayora sits Tortuga Bay, an oasis of white-sand beaches and exotic marine life. Part of the pristine coastline is reserved for the turtles, reptiles, and birds that call the small corner of the Earth home. For us humans, there's a smaller cove. But make sure your camera is charged before heading out! The landscape is incredible, and the area wildlife has no problem posing for snapshots.
  • Rancho Primicias: Rancho Primicias is a privately owned sanctuary for the island's iconic giant tortoises. In addition to the animals, the property also maintains naturally crafted lava tunnels. El Chato Tortoise Reserve is right next door, and it has more animals. But Rancho Primicias is less crowded, which makes for better pictures and a more authentic experience.

Galapagos Vacation: Best Accomodations

You have two accommodation options when vacationing in the Galapagos Islands: floating and land-bound. The first option is traditional inns and hotels. Four of the Galapagos islands are inhabited and have traditional hotels and guest houses. Cristóbal and Santa Cruz are the two main islands. Isabela and Floreana also maintain small populations that service a handful of guest houses. Guests watching their budgets typically stay on land. The downside is that they can only take day trips to the five islands within dingy distance. Plus, land-locked visitors spend more getting to and from day boats. However, the five accessible islands are magnificent. 

Booking accommodations on a Galapagos cruise is the best choice for travelers who are eager to see as much of the archipelago's natural gems as possible. Options abound, ranging from bare-bones to luxe, and some boats are specially engineered for optimal Scuba diving excursions. Galapagos "floating hotels" are always more expensive than staying on land. However, cruises hit the southern islands that are inaccessible to day-trippers. A Galapagos vacation is a once-in-a-lifetime experience worthy of every nature lover's bucket list!