Our Guide to the Galápagos islands

The Galapagos Islands

Venture into another world

A visit to the Galápagos islands is likely to be both life-affirming and life-changing. This small archipelago of 19 islands and numerous smaller islets, around 1,000km off the Ecuadorean coast, is the most biodiverse place on earth, famously providing the inspiration for Charles Darwin’s epoch-changing Origin of the Species. Thanks to stringent regulation of visitors, the islands’ wildlife is not that much different to what the famed naturalist would have seen when he visited on the Voyage of the Beagle in the mid-1800s. To preserve that feel, the Galápagos epitomise the ‘take only pictures, leave only footprints’ philosophy, so splash out on a decent camera, pack a shedload of memory cards and take note of our #IPtips to get the best out of a holiday to this natural wonderland.

Know before you go

Giant tortoise - GalapagosThe sheer variety of wildlife on the Galápagos, combined with the fact that you are unlikely to bag all 19 main islands on one trip means you have to be selective with where you go. As such, pre-planning helps so you can make sure your tour hits all the right notes. Good places to start include Paul D Stewart’s Galápagos: the Islands that Changed the World, and Henry Nicholls’s The Galápagos: A Natural History. For a comprehensive list of what wildlife is where, pick up Birds, Mammals & Reptiles of the Galápagos Islands by Andy Swash and Rob Still.

#IPtips Contact your guides in advance when you book through Insider Places to guarantee an itinerary that’s suited to you and your budget.

Small is beautiful

Small boat to explore the GalapagosYou can visit the Galápagos by land, but the best way if you have sea legs, is to get around the islands on a boat. Choose a small vessel as these will be able to get into the places that big ones cannot, plus you’re more likely to get to islands before the crowds do – an important point to note when numbers are restricted when it comes to visiting each island.

#IPtips For a romantic feel of how Darwin may have visited, we recommend the SS Mary Anne, the only three-masted barquetine in the islands. Alternatively, try the yacht M/Y Passion – if travelling the islands in barefoot luxury doesn’t get you fired up, nothing will.

Eat like a local

encebollado, a thick seafood-based soupIf you want to chow down like an Ecuadorean, or indeed a native Galápian, you’d better like seafood. Typical dishes include encebollado, a thick seafood-based soup with yucca, chillies and onions. High-end options include lobster, crab and shrimp, while octopus ceviche is considered to be a prized delicacy.

#IPtips Travellers with more adventurous taste buds may be tempted to sample sea cucumber while here. Overfishing now means this is a controversial dish best avoided by those looking to help preserve the islands’ unique wildlife.

Seal your fate with canelazo

Seal - GalapagosGalápagos tortoise, green sea turtle, the lava lizard and the marine iguana… the list of amazing wildlife to see truly is incredible. One sight most visitors want to see while on the islands are the Galápagos fur seal colonies, vast rocky shores with thousands of mothers and pups isolated on one side in breeding season. It truly is a breathtaking visual spectacle, and a breath-holding olfactory one – the colonies create quite an unexpected pong!

#IPtips Sample canelazo, a delicious hot rum drink with cinnamon, cloves and citrus fruit… not only will it dull the smell, it’s a great sleep aid if the waters are choppy at night.

Dive in to see more

Sea Turtle in the GalapagosMany visitors to the islands are likely to stay ashore for their wildlife viewing – and they have an amazing experience in doing so. But the surrounding waters are every bit as biodiverse as the islands themselves. At the very least, be prepared to don a snorkel to take a look at what’s going on under the sea – even without scuba gear, you are likely to spot Galápagos penguins, sea lions, reef sharks and green sea turtles.

#IPtips Take your snorkelling up a notch with a dive at Punta Espinosa, on the western side of Fernandina Island and right on the Bolivar Channel. It’s the best place in the Galápagos to spot whales and Galápagos dolphins.

Ecuador and Galapagos explorer – 13 days from £4,640pp

A taste of mainland Ecuador followed by a sailing adventure aboard the SS Mary Anne.

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