The volcanic archipelago located about 600 miles off the western coast of Ecuador is known as the Galapagos Islands. It is world famous for its scenic beauty and iconic animal species, not to mention its place in history as Charles Darwin’s living laboratory. If you’ve added it to your travel bucket list, you aren’t alone. The number of visitors the islands receive has grown significantly in recent years, but this isn’t the type of place you can get to know by wandering about at your leisure. The amazing and unique treasure that is the Galapagos is best explored on an arranged trip in the company of knowledgeable and experienced professionals. Book a tour to visit the Galapagos Islands.
What Is the Galapagos National Park?
In 1959, Ecuador designated most of the archipelago’s land area as belonging to the newly created Galapagos Islands National Park. The Ecuadorean authorities manage and monitor all tourist activity to ensure that future generations will continue to enjoy the park’s wonders. Officials have prepared a list of sites where visitors are allowed; you can venture to less than a quarter of these places without a certified guide, so most of the islands are inaccessible without the naturalists that are part of all reputable tours. Visitors to the Galapagos can opt for a land-based hotel stay with or without day trips to see other islands, or they can choose a sea voyage on a vessel that travels between the islands. This will be the first decision you’ll have to make when thinking about what tour you would like to reserve for your vacation to the Galapagos.
Where to Stay When Visiting the Galapagos
Vacationers who choose to stay in a hotel are assured of sleeping on land every night even if they choose to visit other islands by day. Although the archipelago is comprised of 19 islands and hundreds of islets, lodgings are only available on Santa Cruz, Isabela, Floreana and San Cristobal Islands. Santa Cruz has the widest variety of choices. Of the top three TripAdvisor 2016 Traveler’s Choice Award-winning hotels in the Galapagos, the Finch Bay Eco Hotel in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island was ranked highest. It has also won several years in a row, as the Leading Green Hotel by the World Travel Awards. One of the advantages of staying at the Finch Bay is that the hotel has its own yacht staffed with expert bilingual guides. This makes booking day trips much easier as it can be done directly with the hotel staff. The hotel also offers packages that combine daily outings on the yacht with nightly lodging at the hotel. In mid-2016 the Finch Bay Eco Hotel launched a Top-Notch Island Hopping programme with a partner lodge in Isabela Island, Scalesia Lodge- guests can tick-off 12 of the BIG15 species of Galapagos on this hotel-based package.
Ideal for travellers who´d rather avoid vessels.
The distance between islands may limit the number of places you’ll be able to visit on a hotel-based tour. For this reason, live-aboard cruises are how many visitors choose to see the islands. The National Park administrators have set a 15-day travel route that all tour operators must follow in order to limit the number of people who set foot on the islands at the same time. Anyone who follows this 15-day itinerary is guaranteed to see practically every sight the Galapagos has to offer, so if you have the time and budget for such a trip, you should take one. If not, five, six or seven-day voyages are available but likely won’t travel to every single island of the Galapagos. Even with these limitations, visitors rarely leave the Galapagos disappointed. On any tour, you’ll see many natural wonders and be able to get close to astounding animals.
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When to Visit the Galapagos
There is no off season in the Galapagos, but if you want to avoid a certain weather condition such as rain or tropical heat, the hot season in this area goes from December to May; the cooler season is June to November, and the rainiest months are from January through April. Strange enough, you will experience more hours of blue skies during the rainy season. Mating seasons and times of year when baby animals can be spotted also vary. If you have your heart set on seeing sea lion pups, for example, you’ll be limited to tour excursions that can include these sights.
Booking the Tour
Some times of year see more crowds in the Galapagos simply because many visitors can only travel during holidays such as Christmas or when most schools have their summer breaks. These dates often sell out a year in advance. With the islands’ growing popularity, booking early is becoming necessary even at other times of year. This is the vacation of lifetime for most people, so it warrants plenty of research and as much advance planning as possible. Contacting an established, respected company is important if you’re considering combining a cruise with a hotel stay, an increasingly popular option.