Why Visit The Galápagos Islands

The Galápagos Islands are one of the world’s premier destinations for wildlife viewing and attract more than 200,000 visitors annually looking to visit Galápagos Islands and view some of the most unique animals in the world, many of whom lack fear of humans and can be observed quite close on Galápagos cruises. These remote Islands are beautiful year round so there is no ideal time for Galápagos travel, but wildlife activities vary greatly by month. (For example, marine iguanas hatch May through June, humpback whales are found July through September, sea lions are active in September when their breeding season kicks off, and December is the month giant tortoise eggs begin to hatch.) Many species spend the entire year in the Galápagos and do not migrate so can be seen year round. The Galápagos Islands are also a popular destination with tourists for scuba diving, snorkeling, hiking, enjoying crystal-clear beaches, and exploring lava tubes and other landforms.


Galapagos Seal

GALÁPAGOS ISLANDS IN A NUTSHELL

The Galápagos archipelago is located 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, of which it is part, and consists of 13 major islands, 6 smaller islands, hundreds of islets and rocks. Of volcanic origin and crossed by the equatorial line, the Galápagos Islands are estimated to have been formed 3-5 million years ago, geologically very recent. The Galápagos Islands have a current population of about 30,000 people who inhabit only 5 of the 19 islands – Santa Cruz, Isabela, San Cristóbal, Baltra, and Floreana. Puerto Ayora, located on Santa Cruz Island, is the most populous town in the Galápagos with about 10,000 residents.


Up until the early 1970s, the Galápagos’ population was approximately 4,000. But between 1991 and 2007, it experienced a population boom driven largely by tourism. The population growth and increase in tourism were among the reasons the World Heritage Committee placed the Galápagos on the World Heritage in Danger list in 2007. The Galápagos was removed from the list in 2010.


Tourism is a major component of the Galápagos’ economy and employs and estimated 40 percent of local residents. Most other residents are employed by the public sector.

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NATURAL TREASURES

The Galápagos Islands are famous for their abundance of unique plants, animals, and marine species found nowhere else in the world, which were studied by Charles Darwin and inspired his Theory of Natural Selection in the 1800’s. About 80% of the land birds, 97% of the reptiles and land mammals, and more than 30% of the plants on the islands are endemic, according the Galápagos Conservancy. More than 20% of the marine species in the Galápagos are endemic, which is rare for marine species since they tend to migrate and intermingle much more than land-based species.


Birds unique to the Galápagos include the Galápagos penguin, Galápagos hawk, and flightless cormorant. Special mammals include the Galápagos sea lion and Galápagos fur seals. Endemic marine species include the Galápagos marine iguana, Galápagos grunt and White-spotted Rock Sea Bass. The endemic Galápagos marine iguana is the only lizard to swim in the ocean.


Galapagos Tortoise

The Galápagos also has several endangered species, among them the giant tortoise, an iconic symbol of the Galápagos, with a life span of up to 100 years. Others include the marine iguana, Galápagos penguin, green turtle, sea lion, leatherback turtle, and Galápagos pink iguana.


Because of the variety of endemic species present, the Galápagos Islands are protected as a National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are the focus of many conservation efforts.

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SELECTED UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES IN THE GALÁPAGOS ISLANDS & ECUADOR

  • Galápagos Islands, (among the 12 sites named to the first list in 1978)
  • Galápagos National Park
  • Galápagos Marine Reserve
  • City of Quito

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    Galapagos

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    WHAT TO EXPECT IN THE GALÁPAGOS ISLANDS WITH TAUCK

    • Daily exploration ashore on the islands with hikes and walks led by expert naturalist guides
    • On-tour film vignettes custom-made for Tauck by BBC Earth natural history experts
    • Use of field equipment gadgets including FLIR thermal imaging cameras and long-distance microphones
    • Exploration of islands via Zodiac boat for wet and dry landings
    • Snorkeling among sea lions
    • Opportunities to spot wildlife such as colonies of penguins, fur seals, land iguanas, and, in season, green sea turtles
    • Visit to a tortoise breeding center to learn about conservations efforts
    • Sightseeing at the Equator where visitors can put one foot in each hemisphere simultaneously
    • Guided sightseeing in Quito including to see Carondelet Palace (the president’s palace), the cathedral, and city hall
    • Visit to the Inti Ñan Museum in Quito
    • Birdwatching including Nazca boobies, red-footed boobies, great frigate birds, storm petrels, lava herons, swallow-tailed gulls, Darwin’s finches, mockingbirds
    • Walking along Darwin Bay, a cliff-lined volcanic caldera, with a naturalist
    • Glass-bottom boat ride on Rábida Island to see sea life swimming below
    • Optional snorkeling and kayaking in coastal waters

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