"The natural history of this archipelago is very remarkable: it seems to be a little world within itself."
- Charles Darwin
These are probably the most famous words ever to be spoken about the Galapagos Islands – much like the revolutionary scientific idea they helped shape, this archipelago of volcanic islands off the shores of Ecuador can inspire a different perception about our world.
The Galápagos Islands are 620 miles from the South American mainland and a world apart from anywhere else on the planet. Sometimes referred to as "the living laboratory" that inspired Charles Darwin and his Theory of Evolution over 170 years ago, they still offer a unique opportunity to explore a somewhat primeval natural ecosystem. Stepping onto the shores of the Galapagos Islands, you feel you have been transported to an alternative universe where the waves of the crystal clear ocean crash onto the impressively beautiful volcanic land and a diverse orchestra of birds, reptiles, mammals, marine life, flora and fauna are organized and arranged on principles of mutual co-operation.
Due to their remoteness and diversity, the 13 major islands of the archipelago allow for active multi-sport exploration – on foot, on wheels or in (or even under) water. The mainlands offer exquisite opportunities for trekking, hiking and mountain biking and the immensely rich and diverse marine life enables travelers to explore the surface and depths of Galapagos Islands by snorkeling, sea kayaking and scuba diving.
Galapagos on Foot: Hiking Explorations
Hiking through the archipelago's surreal landscape is a unique land-based Galapagos adventure, with seemingly endless sights on the varied trekking paths. You can take a volcano trail and explore the vast dry forests where the Galapagos' famous flora of cacti, acacia and cat's claw decorates the land. There are four defined ecological zones on the Galapagos Islands: coastal, low or dry, transitional and humid, and each offers a different glimpse of the unique flora and diverse wildlife of birds.
The volcano trail at the Isabela Island Highlands opens a door to a world of geological wonders, including the active Sierra Negra volcano – a destination that will make even the most experienced adventurers hold their breath at the sight of this powerful natural force. Isabela Island is formed by 6 active volcanoes – Alcedo, Cerro Azul, Darwin, Ecuador, Sierra Negra and Wolf, thus making Isabela Island one of the most volcanically active places on Earth.
Another amazing hiking experience is the Tintoreras islet, the mini-Galapagos, where a group of small islands offer a sight of almost all the archipelago’s iconic wildlife. The diversity of mammals inhabiting these areas is incredible, making this one of the top sites in the Galapagos for visitors. No other place on earth allows you to observe such a diverse wildlife of sea lions, penguins and turtles – all living in harmony and exhibiting extreme tolerance towards man.
Galapagos Marine Exploration: Kayaking, Snorkeling & Scuba diving
Without doubt, most visitors come to the Galapagos Islands to admire the diverse wildlife – from giant tortoises across the highlands to comical blue-footed boobies and yellow-scaled land iguanas. But the marine life and the underwater world of the volcanic islands offers a still richer package of wildlife experiences.
To start exploring the Galapagos' rich ocean life, you can consider every water-related activity from snorkeling to kayaking and scuba diving. Snorkeling in the Galapagos Islands is one of the best ways to explore the seemingly endless marine life as you will have encounters with sea lions, penguins, marina iguanas, dolphins, colorful fish and marine turtles, as well as many other aquatic species. Snorkeling enables travelers to glimpse this unique environment and learn about ocean life.
Sea kayaking, on the other hand, offers a different type of experience. Traveling though the bends and inland waterways of the islands tends to hide surprises that would otherwise pass unnoticed. Surrounded by curious dolphins, playful sea lions and even gliding above white-tipped sharks, kayaking is one of the activities you should not miss.
From all the water-related activities you can engage in while on the Galapagos Islands, scuba diving is a must, but only for certified and experienced divers. The diving conditions are a result of six oceanic currents that enable a large diversity of marine life to flourish. Some of the species you encounter underwater could be whale sharks, hammerhead sharks, marine iguanas, seals, crabs, octopus, whales, sea turtles and dolphins. Diving conditions vary with the seasons and the variety of diving sites allow you to choose where you want to go and what you want to see. Diving in the Galapagos is generally difficult due to cold water and strong currents, so this is not a place to learn to dive.