Galapagos Travel Tips

Visitors to the Galápagos Islands numbered +100,000 last year and they all come with high expectations. The islands (all of which were declared a national park in 1959) are about 960 km off the coast of Ecuador and are oddly untropical, their flattish landscapes covered in green furze with volcanic lumps bursting out here and there. Darwin wrote, ‘the country was comparable to what one might imagine the cultivated parts of the infernal regions to be’. Nowadays their appeal lies in that there is something unearthly and unknowable about these lone outcrops set in a vast ocean. Today, only four of the 15 main islands are inhabited, with a total population of 20,000. Thirty years ago it was only 2,000 but tourism has changed all that. Now every visitor to the Galápagos has to pay an entrance fee of $100, some of which goes to pay for the upkeep of the islands and some towards facilities for the islanders. All this means that the islands are about five times are prosperous as mainland Ecuador. Only about three percent of property can be sold to foreigners and prices are correspondingly high. One of the pleasures of being in the Galápagos is that each of the 15 islands offers something completely different, which is how Darwin came to produce his theory of evolution. The Galápagos wildlife is utterly different from anything that you will ever see on a television screen – giant tortoises the size of Fiat Unos, tangled heaps of iguanas, water teeming with sea lions. This is the last frontier that has the reassuring appearance of the Hebrides and a similar lack of red tape.


Where to stay in the Galapagos islands?

Almost everyone who comes here joins a cruise. It’s the only way to see the islands and, besides, there are hardly any hotels. So most visitors stay on luxury yachts such as the Parranda. This 38-metre motor cruiser built for a US industrialist in the 1960s has proper wooden decks, air-conditioning, eight cabins, seven staff and two funnels, this yacht provides relaxing comfort between the energetic island-hopping.


Things to do in the Galapagos islands

Espanola Island

Isla Española or ‘Hood Island’ is where you will see one of the strangest sights in all of nature: the mating rituals of the albatross. When you approach by boat you will see hundreds of albatrosses standing along the guano-streaked cliffs, watching and waiting.


San Cristobal Harbour

A wide horseshoe bay fringed with pastel-painted, corrugated-iron-roofed houses, sea lions heave themselves onto the decks of moored boats and lie sunbathing on their backs, with flippers neatly folded over their chests. Meanwhile, pelicans swoop low over the water, scooping up beakfuls of squirming fish.


The Charles Darwin Research Station

Visit the Charles Darwin Research Centre on the island of Santa Cruz. Here, giant tortoises trundle through the undergrowth at a rate of 6km a day, en route for their nesting grounds. The most famous resident is a giant tortoise called Lonesome George, thought to be somewhere between 60 and 90 years old. Despite being part of the centre’s captive-breeding programme, he fails to show any interest in the opposite sex.

Credits: Conde Nast Traveller