The inspiration behind Charles Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection, the Galapagos Islands are a remote but beautiful archipelago of 19 islands lying on the equator some 600 miles (1,000 km) west of the South American country, Ecuador. Isolated from the continental mainland, these islands are home to unique wildlife not found anywhere else in the world. Some of these unusual species include marine iguanas, giant tortoises, red-footed and blue-footed boobies, fur seals, lava lizards, frigatebirds, colorful Christmas iguanas and the Galapagos Penguin.
Claimed by Ecuador and visited by Darwin in the early 1800s, the Galapagos Islands served as a penal colony in the early 20th century until being declared a national park in 1959. Today, the Galapagos Islands are a popular tourist destination. Some of the most visited include Santa Cruz, which is home to giant tortoises, lava tubes and the Charles Darwin Research Center. Santa Cruz also offers the most hotels and tour operations. Fernandina has a large variety of wildlife from flightless cormorants to marine iguanas, sea lions, dolphins and whales. San Cristobol is known for its dramatic rock formation, Kicker Rock. Isabela is the largest of the islands with many volcano trails while Plaza Sur has a large colony of sea lions. Wolf and Darwin Islands are considered two of the world’s best diving destinations, and Baltra is home to the airport and some souvenir shops.
Although only a few of the islands are populated there are a couple of towns on the archipelago that offer restaurants, bars and hotels including Puerto Ayora, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and Puerto Villamil.
Cruises are the only way to explore the islands. There are a great number of tour operations working out of Quito, Guayaquil and Puerto Ayora. Boat options range from small yachts to luxury cruise ships, and tours can vary from one day to several days.