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It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.Charles Darwin
Overview of the Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands archipelago stands out from the rest of the world with its unique animals and its great landscapes. The upwelling phenomena around the islands largely explain why they are so rich in biodiversity.
In fact, these volcanic islands are home to a large number of endemic species that were the basis of Charles Darwin’s research. In the 19th century, he led the expedition that would eventually become known as the Voyage of the Beagle. By studying the flora and fauna in the Galapagos, Darwin was able to establish his theory of evolution through natural selection. Each of the islands has something different to offer and there is no wrong choice of itinerary.
The Galapagos Islands are also a perfect destination for children and family. It boasts magnificent beaches that dreams are made of, and an open-air zoo to amaze children and adults!
Travel destinations in the Galapagos Islands
The biggest city of the archipelago, Puerto Ayora, is on this island. For those who would like to do without a cruise, be aware that several shipping companies, some of which offer speedboat day trip, gather in this city and make it a choice base to explore the islands.
Of course, many interesting sites are not accessible in a single day. In order to disconnect myself from the city, I decided to take a cruise to experience a better immersion with nature.
The beach of Las Bachas, north of Santa Cruz Island, is a white sand beach easily accessible from Puerto Ayora. It is not, however, a place where you can lie down for the whole day.
The archipelago has the national park status and therefore has its own set of special rules.
Firstly, an authorized guide must accompany you during each landing. Once on site, he will tell you whether or not it is permitted to do activities such as kayaking, snorkeling, hiking, etc.
Each boat also has an assigned time to do a landing. Depending on the location, we had between one and three hours to explore before another group arrived. Luckily, there was no lack of opportunities to practice freediving around the islands when our time at landing was over.
This uninhabited island is very popular with bird lovers. We could see large colonies of blue-footed boobies and fregatidae.
Many Galapagos sea lions, a species unique to the area, were also present on site. Since they’re very sedentary, we often saw them sleeping in groups. They weren’t afraid of us at all.
A tiny island in the center of the archipelago, Bartolome offers a beautiful volcanic panorama. Animal life seemed almost absent on land, but the waters were teeming with activity with penguins, sharks and rays.
From a geological point of view, Santiago’s volcanic formations are quite impressive. In his diary, Charles Darwin mentioned the abundance of iguanas on the island. Today, however, they are much rarer and more solitary.
That said, a large colony of iguanas now covers the island of Fernandina. Marine iguanas are an excellent example of evolution; they survived by adapting their diet with algae when there was a lack of resources on land.
We saw a forest of cactus that had managed to take root in the crevices once left by the lava flows. This is another example of adaptation, this time with flora.
Shaped like a seahorse, Isabela is the largest of the islands. That’s where the majority of endemic species in the Galapagos are found.
However, the landscapes made the biggest impression on me. Numerous hiking trails lead to viewpoints from which to admire these breathtaking panoramas.
Giant Galapagos Turtles
These land turtles are the most emblematic animals of the Galapagos Islands’ fauna. About ten endemic species characterize the archipelago.
Two of these species are now extinct, while the others are endangered. The discovery of this archipelago by man has unfortunately played an important role in the decline of their population.
We were able to see them at Charles Darwin’s research station in Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz), as well as at the Arnaldo Tupiza Breeding Center in Peruto Villamil (Isabela).
Don’t forget to stamp your passport at the research station!
Planning a trip to the Galapagos Islands
Flights to the Galapagos Islands
At the time of writing, Avianca has applied for bankruptcy protection due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Bankruptcy law allows companies to restructure their debt without pressure from creditors.
As the future is uncertain for Avianca, I do not recommend that you use your points to book a flight with this airline.
Therefore, the only way to get to the islands with the points would be to transfer American Express Membership Rewards Points to a Skyteam program such as Delta Skymiles for use on LATAM flights. (As of May 25, 2020, LATAM has also filed for bankruptcy protection).
At that time, the price of a plane ticket was around $1,400, and I had just applied for to the American Express® AeroplanPlus®* Platinum Card.
With this card and minimum spending, I was able to earn around 50,000 Aeroplan Miles for a fee of $499. This example shows that we should not be scared by annual fees!
I still hope that Avianca will manage to get through this crisis, as it was possible to go directly to the islands with only 50,000 Aeroplan miles in economy class (in addition to a free stopover in Quito with a multi-city itinerary). Since the islands belong to Ecuador, they are considered to be in the Northern South America in terms of Aeroplan Miles price zoning.
As for me, I had been able to take advantage of the Aeroplan program to buy my plane ticket by paying only 50,000 Aeroplan Miles and about $275 in taxes.
The boat in the Galapagos Islands
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, it is possible to experience what the islands have to offer from Puerto Ayora or Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.
Both cities are full of modest hotels and the daytrips are very affordable. That being said, as I am always looking for ways to make my travels as rewarding as possible, I couldn’t pass up the experience of a cruise.
Just like in Antarctica, there are some important details to emphasize if you want to go on a cruise.
I recommend that you choose a small boat to spend more time on the ground, without the horde of tourists. My little yacht had only 16 passengers, a ratio I considered perfect. I didn’t feel seasick at all despite the size of the boat.
When we weren’t exploring the sites of landings, we were in the water doing some snorkeling!
In Puerto Ayora, it is possible to wait for a last-minute departure for cruises. I have many friends who have done it this way to take advantage of discounts ranging from 50 to 60% off the initial price.
The best advice I can give you to get the best of both worlds is to go to Puerto Ayora or Puerto Baquerizo Moreno with a plan to visit the islands during daytrips. Once there, keep an eye out for cruises that might suit you. They are 3, 5, 7, 10, 14, or 20 days long!
Prices vary greatly, as everything depends on the number of days of your cruise, the size of your ship and the degree of luxury of its cabin.
As I had a fixed-date vacation, I couldn’t afford to find a bargain on the spot, so I made a reservation before I left.
I chose to go with Gadventures because of a holiday promotion that turned out to be almost as advantageous as a last-minute departure.
Afterwards, I used my National Bank travel points to cover the cost of the trip. Those who would like to base themselves in Puerto Ayora should use cards offering points that can be applied as travel credit. These travel points can be used to cover hotels, hostels, Airbnb, daytrips and last minute cruises.
For scuba diving enthusiasts, several companies offer liveaboards for rent. The Galapagos is known as a place of world class diving!
Weather in the Galapagos Islands
For those who like the heat, be aware that the temperature is not too variable throughout the year since the Galapagos Islands are located at the equator.
There are, however, two distinct seasons:
- dry season
- wet season
Contrary to what one might think, the best time to visit the Galapagos Islands is the rainy season, from January to June, since this is when the visibility for snorkeling is optimal.
The sea is also at its calmest and the water is very warm. Don’t worry about the showers, because they’re very brief.
I made my trip during the months of March and April and had no rainy days; the rain was always at night!
Here are some notes:
- Canadians do not require a visa to visit Ecuador.
- get a camera that goes in the water
- don’t forget sunscreen and mosquito repellent
Would I go back and visit the other islands? Absolutely!
Beyond the endemic species that I have yet to discover, I base my answer on the simple fact that the Galapagos Archipelago is a true paradise on earth!
If you want to follow my adventures on Instagram, my account is wanderingaline!
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