The Galápagos, the islands that inspired Charles Darwin during his voyage on the HMS Beagle, are a tropical mecca of unique wildlife. My journey there was unforgettable; here are some tips on how you can make yours unforgettable too:
Getting to the Galápagos is fairly easy, but flights depart only from Ecuador (flights generally leave from Guayaquil and Quito). Once you arrive in the Galapagos, you must pay a $100 entrance fee, so make sure you have some cash on hand (the U.S. dollar is Ecuador’s national currency).
There are several islands to be seen in the Galapagos, but I opted for Santa Cruz Island. I stayed at the Red Mangrove Inn, a quaint little lodge nestled along Puerto Ayora. This tropical hotel has just 14 guest rooms, all of which are clean and comfortable. On the hotel’s deck you can enjoy a delicious glass of tomate de arbol juice (an Ecuadorian favorite) while the critters of Galapagos entertain you.
While I was enjoying a drink and observing the gorgeous blue waters from the deck, I witnessed marine iguanas, birds and crabs, and was even visited by a sea lion that came up onto the deck and curled up on one of the hotel’s lounge chairs!
Santa Cruz has a multitude of activities to choose from. You can take a short hike through a tropical forest to Tortuga Bay, where you’ll find beautiful beaches and amazing sunsets. Around dusk, grab a bike and ride into town to watch fishermen clean their catch of the day. All the commotion and fresh fish attract several sea lions, who patiently wait at the feet of the fishermen in hope of being tossed a fish scrap.
Also nearby is the Charles Darwin Research Station, where you can see tortoises of all ages and sizes – from cookie-sized baby tortoises to ancient bathtub-sized tortoises. At the station you’ll also find the legendary “Lonesome George,” the last surviving Pinta Island Tortoise.
If you wish to take a cruise around the island or visit another island for the day, there are boats for hire all over Santa Cruz. These expeditions give you the chance to swim with Blue-footed Boobies, marine turtles, marine iguanas, penguins and sea lions.
Drinking, dining and shopping are all a breeze in Santa Cruz. Just scoot on over to the main street (located between the harbor and Darwin Station) and you’ll find whatever you’re looking for. When it’s time for dinner you can choose from the many tourist-friendly restaurants that wrap around the harbor (my personal favorite was Toldo Azul, which had great ahi tuna and even better mojitos). Between restaurants you’ll find shops where you can pick up Tortuga-inspired gifts or a famous Blue-footed Booby t-shirt.
Santa Cruz has some of the best nightlife in the Galapagos, so there’s no shortage of bars serving Pilsener (the national Ecuadorian beer) or reggaeton-blasting discos. If you’re lucky there will be a soccer game on, and you can grab a slice of pizza and a beer and sit amongst a crowd of cheering Ecuadorians at one of the outside eateries.