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The Galapagos Islands

There is no place on Earth like the Galapagos Islands. Far out in the Pacific Ocean, this archipelago – part of Ecuador’s national park system – was formed by titanic geothermic upheavals that created volcanic islands, some of which are still in the throes of creation today.

When Charles Darwin visited in 1835, he observed a pristine, naturally-isolated living laboratory that would inspire and refine his theories, which he would release upon the world – to shattering effect – decades later. The islands have not lost their ability to inspire: the magic Darwin found over 150 years ago is still thriving in this remarkable environment. Here you can walk among unique species such as marine iguanas basking in the sun and observe the elaborate mating rituals of blue-footed boobies, albatrosses, and frigate birds. Unthreatened by predators, Galapagos creatures are undisturbed by visitors, who, one and all, come away inspired and changed by their experience of Nature here.

ARCHIPELAGO’S INFORMATION:

Location:  The Archipelago of Galapagos, commonly known as the Galapagos Islands is located in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles (1000 kilometers) directly across from the continental coast of Ecuador, country to whom the Islands belong and are one of the nation’s 24 provinces.

Area and Population:  The land portion of the Archipelago comprises 3.100 square miles (8.000 square kilometers); plus the Marine Reserve which covers an area of 0.4 square miles (1.1 square kilometers); being the second largest Marine Reserve in the World, after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.  The Islands’ human population, as of 2011, is close to 30.000 inhabitants distributed unevenly among only five inhabited islands (Santa Cruz has by far the largest population).  97% of the land surface is a National Park as well as the totality of the Marine Reserve.  The provincial, administrative and political capital is Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on the Island of San Cristobal.

IMPORTANCE OF THE ISLANDS

The Galapagos Islands are considered one of the most fantastic Natural Areas and a World Wonder of Nature. They are Ecuador’s first National Park and, for more than 30 years now, one of the top nature travel destinations in the world. The Archipelago was the first maritime territory to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, in 1979. The Islands are also a Biosphere Reserve and a Whales and Cartilaginous Fishes Sanctuary. The islands are regarded as a “Mecca” for scientists, researchers, students, naturalists and nature-loving voyagers.

NATIONAL PARK REGULATIONS

The Islands and the Marine Reserve, being protected areas of the highest category on Ecuador’s System of National Parks and Protected Areas, are managed under strict regulations for their preservation. Upon arrival to the island’s airports, the National Park authorities and the tour operators provide visitors with the official booklet containing the “Rules for Visitors”, which describe the applicable regulations for all visitors. These are enforced and frequently reminded to guests, throughout the visit, by the Naturalist guides.
It is forbidden to carry to Galapagos fruits, seeds, plants, animals or any kind of organisms, alien to the islands. Luggage is specially screened and may be physically checked before or at flights’ check-in. Equally so, it is not allowed to remove and take away any natural elements such as shells, pieces of rock, coral, feathers or plants from the islands. These actions are considered infractions and are penalized by the National Park’s and Ecuador’s conservations laws. Passengers and luggage are equally subject to possible screening and/or search before departure from the islands.

EXCURSIONS’ CONDITIONS

Most on-shore visits involve walking along marked trails, which on some places have rocky boulders and irregular terrain. Some of these walks can be found a bit challenging for persons who are not fit or used to such kind of outdoor conditions. There are practically no facilities yet available for persons with disabilities or physical limitations. Landings can be onto small, cement or rocky jetties, sometimes directly into slippery lava rocks. These are referred as “dry landings”. In other cases you land from the dinghies onto a sandy beach and wade ashore for a few feet with ankle-deep water. These are known as “wet landings”. With very rare exceptions, all excursions must be accompanied by a certified Naturalist Guide, licensed by the National Park. The observation of the National Park’s Rules for Visitors is strictly mandatory for all visitors and guides.

Electricity: 110 volts AC, as in mainland Ecuador. Please check with us for information regarding specific ships, yachts or hotels in the islands.

Water: Tap water is not recommendable for drinking anywhere in Ecuador, nor in the Galapagos Islands. Bottled or filtered water is available (and usually provided free of charge) at most vessels and tourist facilities.

Transportation: The Islands are accessible from Quito and Guayaquil, through its two main airports in Baltra Island and San Cristobal Island. A one and a half hour flight, by modern jetliner aircraft, brings travelers from the mainland to Galapagos. Inter-island small aircraft serve the two airports plus the small local airport on southern Isabela Island. There are no direct flights from any airports other than Ecuadorian. Occasional private planes might be allowed to arrive directly from outside Ecuador, prior to complying with a special permit granting process by the relevant authorities. Inter-island boat services are also available between the four inhabited hubs of the archipelago. Bookings and timetables must be done and consulted in advance. There are no passenger services by ship from continental Ecuador to the archipelago; only cargo vessels operate those routes.

Luggage: Please be aware of the fact that the national airlines covering the routes to and from Galapagos have special restrictions as to the weight allowance for checked baggage. Please check with us for details. Only one carry-on item is allowed on the airplane’s cabin, in addition to small purses, camera cases, binoculars or normal-size laptop cases.

 

SAFETY AND HEALTH

Health and Medical Facilities: Only the larger vessels, with capacity of 40 guests or more, have a mandatory resident medical doctor on board. Medical facilities in the Galapagos in general are limited, but contingency plans are in place for emergencies at the small local hospitals and air-ambulances can be brought in if medical evacuation is necessary. Please make sure to inform in advance of any medical conditions, allergies and/or dietary restrictions so that the local staff is aware and prepared to accommodate within the limitations given by the remoteness of the location. Guests who use regular prescription medicines should carry them on their hand-baggage at all times. Particularly on arrival and departure days, guests may not see their checked-baggage for several hours until they reach their vessel or hotel.

CLIMATE CONDITIONS

In spite of the fact that the Galapagos are located in the Equator, the tropical heat is tempered by cooler Oceanic currents which converge upon the islands. There are two distinct seasons in the islands. From December to June is the warm and rainy season. Average day temperatures are in the 80’s Fahrenheit (around 28-32 Celsius). There may be occasional rain showers but days are generally warm and sunny, with pleasant water temperatures, ideal for aquatic activities. Between June and late November, it is the cool and dry season. Cold winds bring in a type of eventual drizzle, locally called “garua”. Average temperatures during this period are in the 70’s Fahrenheit (around 20-24 C) and even lower at night or early morning. Water temperature is considerably colder and wet suits are necessary for swimming, snorkeling or diving activities.

 

CLOTHING: WHAT TO BRING AND WHAT TO WEAR

Attire in Galapagos ranges from informal to very informal. On most cruise vessels and the more exclusive hotels, the only basic dress-code requirements are not to enter the indoor dining rooms barefooted or in swimming costumes. Essential elements to bring are good walking shoes such as sneakers with firm soles; shorts for the day outings; long and short-sleeved lightweight shirts and T-shirts, preferably of cotton fabrics; long pants for the evenings; a cap or wide-brimmed hat; bathing suits and a light sweater and/or windbreaker for the evenings, especially in the cooler months (see above for climate).

RECOMMENDED READING

Galapagos, a Natural History Guide.
Michael M. Jackson.

A Field Guide to the Birds of Galapagos.
Michael Harris.

A Field Guide to the Fishes of Galapagos.
Godfrey Merlen.

Reef Fish Identification.
Paul Humann.

Marine Life of the Galapagos.
Pierre Constant.

Galapagos, Islands Lost in Time.
Tui de Roy.

Galapagos, A Terrestrial and Marine Phenomenon.
Paul Humann.

The Voyage of the Beagle.
Charles Darwin.

Floreana.
Margaret Wittmer.

The Beak of the Finch.
Jonathan Weiner.

The Galapagos Affair.
John Treherne.

SUGGESTED PACKING LIST

  • Tevas or sport sandals with a Velcro strap for wading ashore
  • Shorts (Bermudas or other)
  • Long and short-sleeved shirts, T-shirts
  • Long pants
  • Sweater and/or jacket (if going to the highlands)
  • Good walking shoes
  • Sneakers with rubber soles
  • Bathing suits
  • Wide brimmed hat bandana
  • Suntan Lotion or strong sunscreen & sunglasses
  • Waterproof backpack (light and small for camera & other personal items)
  • Small pair of binoculars, camera and video equipment
  • Seasickness medication and/or personal medication
  • Windbreaker jacket
  • Refillable bottle for water
  • Mosquito repellent

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