What are the Galapagos Islands and Why You Should Go There

By Lia M. Spicer

There are some places in the world that seem like a dream.  A dream if you can afford to go, a dream if you can take the time off to visit, a dream if you can take full advantage of the trip.  I am here to tell you that for all the dreaming we do, the Galapagos Islands (off the coast of Ecuador) are worth the effort required to make the dream a reality.

If you are looking for an outdoor hands-on educational yet fun experience for your children you’ve got that, if you are looking for white sand beaches and crystal-clear skies and water, you’ve got it, if you are looking for spas, pampering, culinary delights, you’ve got that, if you are looking to escape for a while the Galapagos Islands gives you all of that and whole lot more.  But first let’s talk about what the Galapagos Islands are.

There are 13 major islands and 7 smaller islands (20 in total) that make up the Galapagos archipelago. The Galapagos are located on the Nazca tectonic plate and were formed by layering and lifting of repeated volcanic action.  Almost all the islands have at least one active volcano on them and geologically speaking the islands are young (5 million years old) and still forming.  The biodiversity of the Galapagos Islands is amazing making this island group one of the most studied in the world.  The location near the equator and the mix of tropical and temperate weather and current creates a unique environment found almost nowhere else in the world.  The Galapagos Conservancy website states, “The Galapagos Islands are home to some of the highest levels of endemism (species found nowhere else on earth) anywhere on the planet. About 80% of the land birds you will see, 97% of the reptiles and land mammals, and more than 30% of the plants are endemic. More than 20% of the marine species in Galapagos are found nowhere else on earth. Favorites include the giant Galapagos tortoise, marine iguana, flightless cormorant, and the Galapagos penguin — the only penguin species to be found in the Northern Hemisphere.”

These are among the reasons we chose to go there for vacation and this is what we did.  We arrived in the Island of Baltra where the main airport for the Galapagos Islands is located, then moved via ferry to the Island of Santa Cruz to the city of Puerto Ayora, the most populous town in the Galapagos Islands with about 20,000 inhabitants.  We stayed in a gorgeous rented house with multiple bedrooms, several bathrooms, a full kitchen, pool, jacuzzi tub, within steps of beautiful local beaches and the famous and gorgeous Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel. However, before we got to the house, we visited the amazing Reserva Pajaro Brujo – a nature reserve in the highlands of Santa Cruz that houses and protects many endangered animals including leather back sea turtles.

The next day in the morning we took a boat tour to the private Bachas white sand beach for some swimming and exploring, followed by lunch on the boat.  Then in the afternoon, we visited North Seymour island where we were able to observe Palo Santo trees, colonies of the famous blue-footed boobies (birds), frigate birds during their mating season, sea lions everywhere, iguanas, crabs, and much more.

On the third day, we sailed from Puerto Ayora to visit the amazing Tortuga Bay and Playa Escondida (Hidden Beach) where we were able to have some fun in the sun, see a ton more animals including baby sharks who had come into the shallows to warm up. We then sailed to a small bay on the north coast of Santa Fe island which has a natural rock barrier making it more protected from the elements and conducive to animals to snorkel with including turtles, sharks, sea lions, rays, sea iguanas, and schools of fish.  This was so exciting that even the kids got into the water and snorkeled with us. 

Then back near our home island (Santa Cruz) we made our way to the famous “Las Grietas”, a volcanic rock formation and aquatic entertainment area. Las Grietas is basically a crack in a mountain that is filled with water.  The crack was formed by fissures of lava created two giant walls that house a mixture of sea and fresh water. Because the water there is so clear it is a popular place to swim, dive, and spend time.

The next day we went home.  I wish I had more time to spend in the Galapagos Islands because we only scratched the surface.  There are so many islands, and each very distinctive, it is a place that one can return to many times and still never see everything.  One day I hope to go back and see even more and maybe I will see you there.

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