To say the Galapagos Islands were one of the most surreal, jaw-dropping places I’ve ever been to, leaving me with the urge to abandon everything I’ve ever loved for a simpler life, would be a massive understatement. The 19-island archipelago has a lot to offer in a relatively small-ish space, so even though I only visited five islands during my nine days on land, I didn’t need to waste days traveling in order to see a huge range of landscapes and wildlife.
The Galapagos made the ideal vacation destination for me because it was a good mix of a photography lover’s landscapes, adventurous day trips, and uncrowded beaches, all without being too touristy. Oh, and VOLCANOES. Not to mention the added benefit of getting up close (and sometimes personal) with wildlife, both above and below sea level. Even though I’ve barely seen all of what the Galapagos have to offer, I’m convinced that everyone needs to visit at some point in their life. Probably sooner rather than later.
Here are just a few of the obvious reasons why you should consider a trip to the Galapagos as your next destination. And really, it’s not as expensive as you think. But more on that later.
1. The Wildlife
Playfully curious sea lions. Blue and red footed boobies. Hissing tortoises. Lanky pink flamingos. Wobbly little penguins. Deep-diving marine iguanas. Whether you’re on a boat, bike, feet, snorkeling, or scuba diving, you’ll get to interact with so many different species that are generally unafraid of humans. That means they’ll stand there and examine you while you examine them. They’ll swim alongside you and continue about their journey. Or if they’re really playful like the sea lion pup we encountered, they’ll come right up and hug you and beg for you to scratch its belly.
2. The Landscape
The different elevations of the volcanic islands give way to several ecosystems. At first glance some of the islands look like lifeless spans of nothing, but if you look closer or walk a few meters all of that can easily change. One minute you could be on a long stretch of white, resort-free beach, the next walking up a shaded dirt road, then suddenly you’re scrambling over a Mars-like rocky surface, peering into an active volcano crater. Some of the beaches on uninhabited islands such as Bartolome have layers upon layers of undisturbed lava flows covering soft white sand that looks like it’s never been touched by man.
You can jump in the water with a snorkel just about anywhere and see all kinds of fish and sea turtles. But in places like Los Tuneles, you’ll get to swim through caves and tunnels where sting rays and schools of sharks sleep, sea horses huddle, and baby sea lions swim, who just want to play tag and have you tickle their bellies.
4. Scuba Diving
I didn’t take my camera diving because I was worried about exceeding the depth at which my camera is actually waterproof up to. But diving in the Galapagos is a must. Many of the dive sites have strong currents and are for more experienced divers, but there are a few spots you can visit even if you don’t have that many dives under your belt. I mean really, you don’t have to go very deep to find yourself swimming below a ten-foot manta ray or alongside a school of hammerhead sharks.
5. Active Volcanoes
Sierra Negra is a fairly easy hike that can be done in about 5-6 hours from the car drop-off point. The first, more relaxed part of the hike breaks through the clouds on a dirt path surrounded by trees. Before long you reach the summit, which is actually the second largest caldera in the world (behind Yellowstone). While it’s definitely a sight to see, especially the lava flows from the 2005 eruption, the real awesomeness comes when you continue onwards to Volcan Chico. Climbing out there took another 45 minutes or so of climbing alongside lava tubes and lava rocks in the brutal sunlight, only to find ourselves looking down into steaming craters at the end of the trail.
6. Colorfully Diverse Beaches
One day you can choose to make the hour-long trek from town to Tortuga Bay before finding yourself on the flawless, secluded stretch of white sand beach. The next you can try to play tough guy while running barefoot across hot, black, rocky sand. Either way, land is more abundant than people here so it’s easy to find plenty of space to claim as your own for the afternoon. Though I didn’t see them all, I’ve heard the Galapagos also have dark green, pink, and red beaches too.
And with that I’ll stop at six because I’m pretty sure the photos speak for themselves.
Stay tuned because I’ll be giving you all kinds of tips for making a trip to the Galapagos more affordable than you think. Until then, you might as well go ahead and request at least two weeks off work whenever works for you—because there’s never a bad season to visit the Galapagos thanks to their location.