Galápagos Islands

“Las Isles Encantadas” – The Enchanted Isles

Charles Darwin’s journey on the Beagle in 1831 carried him right around the world, but it was here, on the Galápagos Islands, that Darwin conceived his revolutionary theory expressed in his classic work, On The Origin of the Species. The Islands represent the scientific focus of this, one of the greatest intellectual and emotional upheavals to face mankind.

The Galápagos, a place of breath-taking contrasts: grey volcanic rock, parched deserts and lush cool forests set floating in the ever changing colours of the sea and sky, have remained as isolated and unspoiled as when Darwin first visited them a century and a half ago. Scattered close to the Equator, some 1000 kms west of Ecuador, the islands burst from the bed of the Pacific Ocean many years ago in a volcanic ferment of fire and lava. At first they were steamy and sterile, devoid of life. Within days, however, algae grew on the barren rocks below sea level, and fish colonised the newfound reefs. Oceanic birds found shelter and safe breeding places. Slowly, in the wake of these first inhabitants, came reptiles and mammals, refugees from the mainland of South America, drifting out on rafts and vegetation mats in the South Equatorial current.

It’s a world where time has stood still – almost primeval in its splendour. Marine and Land Iguanas – lizards resembling dinosaurs, giant tortoises, and birds found nowhere else on earth. It is a place of Close Encounters – Animals so tame that you can walk among them, swim with them and photograph them from such a close range that a telephoto lens, while handy, is not essential. An out-of-this-world travel experience!

This living laboratory of evolution is an Ecuadorian National Park with a strict yearly visitor quota limit. In an effort to preserve the Islands, the Galápagos has been declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco. Because of these restrictions, a visit is a rare experience and reservations should be made well ahead to avoid disappointment. The Islands can be reached by plane from Quito or Guayaquil and are then best explored by small cruise ships or charter yacht sailings, all of which carry dedicated naturalist guides.